Pubdate: Thu, 02 Jul 2015
Source: Pique Newsmagazine (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Pique Publishing Inc.
Author: Allen Best


In 2012 Colorado voters legalized the sale and consumption of 
marijuana for recreational purposes. Some ski towns have embraced 
marijuana, treating it little differently than alcohol. But others 
have been biding their time.

To Vail and other towns, cannabis use by visitors and residents is an 
undeniable reality. But that doesn't mean they will allow stores 
selling THC-infused products.

Here in Canada recreational marijuana use is still illegal though 
access to medical marijuana has been completely reinvented. This has 
come with its own headache.

In June, Vancouver city council voted to regulate and license the 
roughly 100 medical marijuana retailers in the city, making it the 
first city in Canada to do so and drawing fire from the federal government.

The bylaw will charge retail dealers a $30,000 licence fee - the 
city's highest permit cost - and prevent shops from operating within 
300 metres of community centres, schools and other pot shops.

Currently, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and Washington, D.C. 
have all legalized recreational marijuana, though you can't smoke in 
public, nor in most hotels, so it is tricky to enjoy this newfound 
freedom, especially as a pot tourist.

Regular Pique contributor Allen Best investigates the situation more 
deeply from his Colorado base.

You can buy a Budweiser in Vail. You can smoke a bud, as in the 
flowering portion of a cannabis plant, in the privacy of your own 
home. But buy a bud, shatter, wax or chocolate chip cookies infused 
with THC, the psychoactive agent in cannabis?

Not yet. And perhaps not ever. Unlike some other ski towns in 
Colorado, which have chosen to treat marijuana similar to alcohol in 
important ways, Vail, one of North America's top ski resorts, has 
been deeply ambivalent about allowing sales. Almost everybody would 
agree that attitudes toward cannabis use have changed rapidly, and 
many people would agree that it's for the better that the economy of 
cannabis has been brought above ground.

But what is the effect on the "brand" of Vail? That's been the 
question in recent weeks as elected officials mull whether to allow 
sales. It's a question that Whistler could someday also face, given 
the trend toward legalization in North America. After all, "super, 
natural British Columbia," as the tourism slogan goes, is located 
between Washington State and Alaska, and both have now legalized 
sales for recreational use.

Colorado's "great social experiment," as Gov. John Hickenlooper put 
it, has gone reasonably well since 55 per cent of voters in November 
2012 legalized recreational use, grow operations, and sales. Sales 
were authorized beginning in January 2014.

In Vail, the margin was even larger: 60 per cent. And among that 
majority was Andy Daly, the silver-haired mayor of Vail. He's been in 
Colorado 46 years, working first as a ski patroller at Aspen before 
moving into management jobs. He's overseen several ski areas and for 
a time was president of Vail Resorts, the ski company.

Daly says he voted for legalization in the hope that bringing the 
marijuana economy above ground would reduce the power of drug cartels 
in Mexico and the United States. It's probably too soon to know 
whether this has succeeded, in part because Colorado is responsible 
for such a relatively small part of the North American market for cannabis.

But wanting to legalize cannabis sales is not the same as wanting 
stores on your main street or, in the case of Vail, the Bridge 
Street. Colorado's law allows the towns, cities and counties to allow 
sales - or not. Far more than half so far have chosen not to allow 
sales. Use is allowed in all jurisdictions, but nowhere in public, 
such as along streets or parks.

As mayor, Daly is inclined to keep Vail's door closed on sales. He 
says he is persuaded by a community survey, which was distributed not 
only to residents but also second-home owners and others with a deep 
interest in Vail affairs. In that survey, 85 per cent of respondents 
indicated they had no interest in allowing cannabis stores in Vail.

Daly says his thinking is guided partly by business owners in Vail, 
but also those in Breckenridge and Aspen. Legalized sales, he says, 
"would be extraordinarily disadvantageous to the brand we've tried to 
develop in Vail and protect and extend."

The testimony of Mexican visitors has particularly influenced Daly. 
Wealthy Mexicans have been drawn to Vail for decades, and the town is 
currently in the process of establishing a sister-city relationship 
with San Miguel Allende, a resort along the Atlantic coast. As Brazil 
has prospered, Portuguese has also become a commonly heard language 
in Vail, too. Vail's attraction to rich Latin Americans is the sense 
of security. "They feel it's a very safe environment for their 
children, and at least anecdotally, they are not in favour of 
marijuana for sale in downtown Vail," says Daly. "They don't want 
their kids to see it. They think it would be detrimental to the 
overall experience. They feel the same as (our) business owners, that 
it would be inconsistent with our brand."

Like Whistler, Vail is not entirely prim and proper. Alcohol has 
often flown freely, sometimes during holidays producing exuberance 
bordering on mayhem. Marijuana use has been ample, too. In 1985, when 
a quad lift with a sliding canopy to protect riders from snow and 
wind debuted, it was formally called the Vista Bahn. With a knowing 
smirk, locals called it the Rasta Bahn, a reference to the marijuana 
culture of reggae music then popular.

That's not to say that you can't buy marijuana now when visiting 
Vail. It's harder than ordering a pizza, but it's still easy enough. 
Three stores that sell cannabis products can be found in a strip that 
locals call the Green Mile. It's located in Eagle-Vail, the 
unincorporated community between Vail and Beaver Creek. From Vail 
Village, it's a five-or 10-minute ride. Some hotels dispatch vans to 
take their guests to the cannabis stores.

The one I visited during mid-June is called Roots Rx, and it's 
located in a suburban office building with an engineering company 
upstairs and a packaging business next door. It will dispatch a limo 
to customers who call in, and a "budtender" named Sara told me that 
the limo has stayed plenty busy since the store opened last October.

Small by standards of those in Denver, it still has the full range of 
goods: joints, bud for smoking in bowls, plus the concentrates: 
shatter, pie crust and wax.

It also has edibles: various candies and cookies infused with THC. To 
seemingly everybody's surprise in Colorado, edibles have been 
responsible for 40 per cent of product sold since recreational sales 
began in January 2014, and the concentrates another 19 per cent.

Edibles have had unintended consequences, most famously the catatonic 
night that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd spent on a 
high-priced hotel bed in downtown Denver soon after sales began in 
2014. She wrote about her frightened over-indulgence some months 
later. Unlike smoking, which quickly produces a sensation, eating or 
drinking THC-infused products has a more delayed impact. Feeling 
nothing at first, some have gobbled several portions.

"An overdose on marijuana is called a nap," one "budtender" assured 
me with a smile when I visited a Denver-area store selling 
recreational marijuana last winter. But the evidence suggests a more 
unwieldy set of reactions. One college student jumped from a hotel 
balcony in Denver after wolfing down too many edibles. There have 
been reports, shy on data and strong on anecdote, of increased visits 
to emergency rooms.

Colorado regulators in February responded with new rules that mandate 
identification of THC contents in portions. A chocolate bar may have 
100 milligrams of THC, but the bar is broken into chunks of no more 
than 10 milligrams per serving. In most of the stores I have visited 
across Colorado since December, customers are advised to start low 
and go slow. In other words, wait an hour or two to see what five 
grams will do.

A substantial number of marijuana buyers have been tourists. One 
study conducted a year ago, six months after sales began, found that 
visitors were responsible for 50 per cent of purchases in metro 
Denver and up to 90 per cent in ski towns.

Aspen and Telluride both allowed sales as soon as the state's rope 
was dropped in January 2014. They twitch liberal to Vail's innate 
conservatism. Jack Nicholson and Goldie Hawn hung out in Aspen for 
decades, and Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise have places in Telluride. 
But Vail? It's better to know Wall Street, than Hollywood, to pick 
out the rich and famous that visit Vail or its nearby companion of 
Beaver Creek.

Both Aspen and Telluride treat cannabis much the same as alcohol, at 
least in determining location of outlets. Like bars, they must be a 
respectful distance from schools, for example. Both towns also chose 
to let the market regulate the number of stores. There is no quota. 
The market itself has capped, for the time being, four stores in 
Telluride and five in Aspen.

Steamboat Springs was more slow to open the door - and only partially 
so. Elected officials there carefully created zoning that precludes 
cannabis stores near the base of the ski area or in the historic 
downtown area. The stores - capped at three - are all out on the edge 
of town, with the likes of auto-body shops and plumbing offices.

Other ski communities are split. Most of the world thinks of Crested 
Butte as one place. It's really two places. The original mining town 
tilts liberal, but a newer municipality at the base of the ski area 
called Mt. Crested Butte trends conservative. One allows cannabis 
sales, but the other one? Forget about it. You see that same dynamic 
in many other joined-at-the hip ski towns, including Aspen and 
Snowmass, Telluride and Mountain Village, Winter Park and Fraser.

But here's something more perverse: Those places more inclined toward 
conservatism also are distrustful of the free market. Big-government 
Aspen lets the free market govern how many cannabis stores operate, 
but trust-the-free-market Steamboat believes in central planning.


Breckenridge offers arguably Colorado's most interesting story. The 
town calls itself "genuine Colorado," a reference to its roots in the 
gold rush of 1859. One relic of that mining era is architecture along 
the town's Main Street with the Queen Anne's touches of the Victorian era.

It's a cute place for families to stroll, stopping at stores that 
sell T-shirts, candy and clothing. One store is called the "Joy of Sox."

And when recreational sales began in 2014, visitors could also shop 
for Sour Diesel and other strains of indica and sativa at a store 
located on the second floor of an old yellow-sided house on Main 
Street. That's where the Breckenridge Cannabis Club was located, and 
on opening day it had lines of customers up the narrow stairs and out 
the door and onto the sidewalk along Main Street.

Breckenridge had a history of being ahead of the Colorado curve in 
legalization. The town was quick to allow sales of marijuana for 
medicinal uses after it was authorized by state voters. They could 
even be on Main Street, if only in second-floor locations. In 2009, 
town voters went one step further, with 73 per cent of voters 
allowing possession of up to one ounce. It was the first municipality 
in Colorado to do so. When 55 per cent of Colorado voters opted for 
legalization, Breckenridge was there with 70 per cent.

But as time went on, Breckenridge's embrace became less broad. Many 
people saw medical marijuana a sham. It was supposed to be for people 
in genuine need, and the Colorado law spells out the conditions: 
cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, and others. But there was also a provision 
for "severe pain," and medical dispensaries in Denver and elsewhere 
found physicians, on call, who could diagnose that severe pain - 
wink-wink - in short order. No need to get an appointment weeks in 
advance. Rather, the script was minutes away. "I've never seen so 
many 21-year-olds with severe neck pain," the local sheriff said at the time.

The Breckenridge Town Council decided that recreational sales needed 
to be treated differently than medical sales. The Breckenridge 
Cannabis Club could still operate out of its second-floor location on 
Main Street if it sold medical marijuana, but recreational sales 
could only be done in certain zones. One of those zones is a service 
district called Airport Road. Several cannabis stores had located 
there. Locals dubbed it Airpot Road.

The Breckenridge Cannabis Club fought to stay on Main Street and sell 
recreational pot. But 70 per cent of town residents said no. Risk was 
the central axis for the debate. "Big risk, little upside," warned 
three former mayors with a combined tenure of 16 years. "When 
marijuana goes mainstream," added the former mayors, our Main Street 
may then be ready. But not now, not yet."

In March, a survey commissioned by the Breckenridge Tourism Office 
probed how visitors saw the community in light of the availability of 
marijuana. Overall, 75 per cent said it was neither positive nor 
negative, but more (12 per cent) were very positive than negative. 
With overnight visitors not from Colorado, i.e. the destination 
guests, reviews were even stronger, 20 per cent finding marijuana as 
positive compared to seven per cent who saw it as a negative.

Breckenridge also collects a local sales tax on marijuana sales, but 
it's only 1.5 per cent of the total sales, compared to 10 per cent 
for grocery and liquor, 22.5 per cent for bars and restaurants, and 
31 per cent for short-term lodging.


In Vail, legalization has been a curiosity to most people. One person 
I know, a long-time consumer of marijuana, has started buying his 
stash from the Green Mile stores. Why wouldn't you, he said, instead 
of buying from somebody you barely know in the shadows?

Make no mistake: it's still illegal to consume marijuana in public. 
People can buy edibles, and no one will know. But smoking a joint or 
a bowl? Colorado law strictly bans smoking in public places. That 
includes the ski area and Bridge Street. Indoor smoking is also 
banned in hotel rooms. Those people smoking - whether tobacco or 
cannabis - are commonly fined $250 to $300, for the cost of removing the scent.

A hotel valet named Geno, who I used to play basketball with in Vail, 
reports that he doesn't get asked about where to buy cannabis all 
that often. Everybody has an iPhone, and the information is at their 
fingertips, he says. "If somebody does ask, I explain that it's not 
as legal as some people think," he said. It's illegal to drive while 
under the influence.

As the Vail council started discussion options in early June, Greg 
Moffet was one of the more outspoken members. He tends toward florid 
Hawaiian shirts and sandals, even at council meetings. But he didn't 
argue for legalizing sales. However, he did declare that Vail needs 
to respond to a new reality. "We have people coming to town anyway, 
with their shopping bags from Eagle-Vail or Denver," he said. "I am 
most concerned about creating an environmental where a percentage of 
our guests - and we need to make peace with this fact - that a 
percentage of our guests want to consume this product. I think it is 
incumbent on us to not put our heads in the sand as to what is going 
on here. The status quo is broken."

Moffet says that Vail needs to provide a place for people to consume 
cannabis, no matter where they've purchased it. Daly observed that 
Moffet was talking about marijuana clubs. Only one such place seems 
to exist in Colorado, in the gambling town of Black Hawk.

Later, in an interview, Moffet said that in his ideal model, cannabis 
would be consumed where it is sold. "But that model does not exist 
today," he added.

The Vail council will take up the marijuana issue again in July, and 
Moffet says he doesn't think the town's ready to accept sales. But he 
also argues that Vail should not close the door forever. "It's moving 
too fast," he says.

You hear that comment frequently in Colorado. While 23 states and the 
District of Columbia now allow medical use of cannabis, Colorado was 
the first to implement regulations for sale of purely recreational 
use. Washington state voters approved legalization at the same time. 
But without a legal framework or sales of medical marijuana, 
Washington has been slower to move forward. Colorado is the petri 
dish for the experiment.

Now, Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational 
use - although the latter has a modified model, one that emphasizes 
personal grow operations.

Where will this all end up? High Times Magazine sponsored the 
Cannabis Cup on April 18 to 20 in Denver. The event drew some 50,000 
to 75,000 people. Bill Kreutzmann, the drummer for the Grateful Dead, 
was there to promote his book, Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, 
Dreams and Drugs. Some of the 300-plus vendors were hawking pipes, 
LED lights for more energy efficient grow operations and T-shirts: 
"Denver: Center of the Cannaverse," said one.

There was a sense of triumph as thousands of people drew on cannabis 
cigars, called blunts, and a collective puff at 4:20 p.m. on April 20 
produced a haze of smoke. Before, in conference rooms, speakers had 
discussed everything from how to cook organically and healthily with 
cannabis ("cut out the refined sugar!") to political implications. 
Ballot issues are being readied in Arizona, California, Nevada, Maine 
and Massachusetts. Legislators in some other states are working up 
proposed legalization laws.

"If California legalizes it, it's over," said Russ Belville, who does 
a daily two-hour show on 420 Radio, which calls itself the NPR of THC.

What's all over? The national policy of prohibition. The U.S. 
government took the first steps to ban marijuana in 1937, just a few 
years after legalizing alcohol, and then stepped up the ban in 1970 
by making it a Schedule 2 controlled substance under federal laws. 
Belville showed a chart showing that more than two million people 
have been imprisoned under the laws. "Mostly black and Latino men," he said.

Keith Stroup, an attorney who in 1970 founded NORML, the advocacy 
organization, said that in 1969, polls showed just 12 per cent of 
Americans favored legalization. Now, polls show between 53 and 58 per 
cent for legalization. They can see the failure of prohibition, he 
said, but two-thirds of Americans also have an unfavourable opinion 
of marijuana users. "They see us as slackers, people without ambition 
who spend our days on the sofa," he said. "We have passed the tipping 
point, but marijuana smokers must be responsible in how they pursue 
it and how they present it."

And after the United States? Other countries took their cues from the 
U.S. in making marijuana illegal, speakers said, and the reverse will 
be true, too. Might that include Canada?

Colorado's key lesson is that legalization has more complexities than 
you might think. The popularity of edibles surprised everybody. 
Police are still trying to get a handle on how to judge the influence 
of somebody who has ingested THC. Everywhere there are questions 
about the impact of greater availability on the formation of adolescent minds.

Five and 10 years from now, there will probably still be questions. 
Keep in mind that the prohibition of alcohol in the United States 
ended in 1933. If prohibition was considered a massive failure, 
Americans are still grappling with the effects of legalization 77 years later.

With cannabis, much the same is likely to be true, too. But Colorado 
is already one toke over the line.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom