Marijuana in Denver

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, August 15th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

JILL NELSON, HOST: And I’m Jill Nelson.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: marijuana and young professionals. Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg visited Denver to learn how its upscale young professionals are using it. Here’s her story.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The 16th street mall is in the heart of downtown Denver. It’s a mile-long outdoor shopping area sandwiched between skyscrapers.  

Located near the center of the promenade sits the mall’s sole marijuana dispensary. It’s a prime location not only because it’s in a high-traffic, upscale neighborhood, but also because it attracts downtown professionals with healthy incomes.

AUDIO: [Sound of store, music, shoppers]

The store is bigger than a basketball court and looks like a hip tech retail outlet. Back-lit glass boxes built into the walls glow with different edibles. There’s THC infused root beer, black tea, and fruit punch, infused chocolate bars, brownies and gummies and “relaxing” mints. Tables display marijuana buds under glass cases. Sitting next to each bud is an iPad with information on its particular characteristics.

Many of the store’s shoppers just got off work. Men dressed in suit jackets and women in blouses and slacks. Employees roam the floor helping customers pick out products. Most people passed over the buds that have to be smoked in favor of edibles, oils, and pot that can be vaped.

AUDIO: [Sound of employee talking]

One man named Derek leaving the store is dressed in green scrubs. He just got off work and bought a vape pen. Despite the fact that buying and smoking marijuana is perfectly legal here and that he’s been using for 20 years, he doesn’t want to use his last name.

SCHWEINSBERG:  Are you willing to tell me your last name?

DEREK: Mmmm, no.

Or say where he works.

SCHWEINSBERG: Who do you work for? DEREK: I’d rather not say.

In the past, dispensary customers had to take their weed home to use it. But now Denver business owners offer hip places to buy marijuana—and hip places to use it.

One of those places is a yoga studio.

AUDIO: [Sound of Amy instructing]

Amy Newman is a yoga instructor at Twisted Sister in north Denver. The studio hosts a marijuana yoga class at a licensed location every Friday night. It’s called ganja yoga. The studio also hosts weekend marijuana yoga retreats around the state.

She says the pairing is popular among 20 and 30-year-olds and says the practice encourages people to try pot who otherwise wouldn’t.  

NEWMAN: There was like a pair of older ladies and their daughters there together, and I think you could definitely tell their daughters brought them into this experience. And like they were totally smoking and like hanging out.

Marijuana tourism companies have also opened, providing experiences centered around getting high. Tours last a few hours and cost between $50 and $100 per person. One class called Lit on Lit encourages attendees to get high and write stories.

Or there’s a Sushi and Joint class where people learn to “roll authentic sushi and perfect joints.” There’s also pot themed painting classes and even a Cannabis-friendly fly-fishing excursion.

AUDIO: [Sound of tourists]

Today, I hop on a bus with 25 tourists who are visiting a marijuana greenhouse and a dispensary shop. This tour’s biggest selling point? Getting high in the back of the bus. That’s why this college-aged couple from Florida took the tour.

AUDIO: I’ll probably do it like every other day pretty much or more. We pretty much came just for the experience. Something new.

But despite the fact that smoking on the tour is legal and encouraged, many of the tourists wear red wristbands—meaning they don’t want to talk to the media (me). They are afraid of what could happen back home if family or employers find out.

AUDIO: [Sound of people declining to talk]

As of March, 11 other businesses and potential businesses have applied for marijuana social-use licensing.  

One licensed social-use business is the Coffee Joint. It’s a brick-faced building along a major interstate south of downtown. An employee greets customers and checks IDs.

EMPLOYEE: So welcome to the Coffee Joint. We allow cannabis consumption as long as you’re not using lighters or torches. Basically we allow the use of cannabis vaporizers, cannabis dabs, your own rigs are certainly available as well as cannabis edibles.

Rita Tsalyuk started the business. She says most of her customers are young professionals looking for a social place to use.

TSALYUK: We’ve wanted for people to have a place where they can consume together, talk together, meet each other.

But there’s more to it than that. Tsalyuk and her business partner also own the dispensary next door. Tsalyuk says by providing a place for customers to consume, they’re hopeful the Coffee Joint will promote business at the dispensary.

TSALYUK: We don’t anticipate this to be highly profitable business. Hopefully we’ll be in the positive margins. Hopefully it will help our dispensary.

The Coffee Joint provides free coffee and tea and a cooler full of juices and energy drinks. There’s also snacks like Twinkies and Little Debbies. One couple sits in a back room watching the comedy Friends.

AUDIO: [Sound of Friends]

In another room there’s board games and ping pong. That’s where Jessica and her husband are sitting. Her husband occasionally uses marijuana. They’re in the process of moving to California, another state where pot is legal, but her husband doesn’t want to use his first or their last name because it could affect his employment prospects. Even though weed is legal, Jessica says employers still aren’t fans.

JESSICA: We also have to develop a culture where that’s something that people are comfortable with in the corporate landscape, and now I think there’s a lot of, well, there’s a lot of policy is still in place that would prevent that because of drug testing.

While both Jessica and her husband support the legalization of marijuana, her husband admits it’s difficult to use marijuana frequently and still lead a successful career.  

HUSBAND: I have seen people that use it all the time. You can kind of point out certain flaws that may come from that. I mean, certain people have a, are more functional on it. Some people are a little bit more abusive with it and uh, and it can certainly affect them.

So while these businesses try to remove the “pot-head” stigma from marijuana use, for many young professionals who enjoy and support marijuana use, it remains.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg, reporting from Denver, Colorado.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File) In this Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, file photograph, a marijuana plant is shown as it is grown at the Colorado Harvest Company in Denver. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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