Marijuana in America: Election Night at the Pot Shop

By Corey Hutchins

Ear­li­er this week, a state appeals court in Michi­gan ruled that a pros­e­cu­tor’s “per­son­al dia­tribe” in court against that state’s med­ical mar­i­jua­na law spoiled a con­vic­tion in a pot-grow­ing case where the evi­dence had oth­er­wise appeared sol­id. In New York City, the may­or and police com­mis­sion­er recent­ly announced they’ll stop arrest­ing peo­ple for pot pos­ses­sion and instead mere­ly issue tick­ets. In Maine, pro-mar­i­jua­na advo­cates believe their state could become the first in the North­east where weed is legal.

When I read news like that, as a recent Col­orado trans­plant, it’s hard not to let out a smug and self-sat­is­fied yawn. I hear the voice of the first per­son I met behind the counter at a legal mar­i­jua­na shop just out­side Col­orado Springs as he scanned my ID with a con­spir­a­to­r­i­al grin: “Wel­come to the future.”

Ear­li­er this month, on Novem­ber 4, I decid­ed to spend Elec­tion Night in a legal recre­ation­al mar­i­jua­na shop about sev­en min­utes from where I live. From the road, this par­tic­u­lar clean, well-light­ed place looks like it might be a Krispy Kreme donut shop. It’s next to a gas sta­tion, and there’s extra park­ing a block away. A few armed pri­vate secu­ri­ty guards direct traf­fic and keep an eye on things.

On Elec­tion Night the pot shop was packed. Patrons and employ­ees there were hop­ing a local bal­lot mea­sure to ban the store from sell­ing recre­ation­al reefer would fail. I took a num­ber and found a seat on a bench along the wall. It’s a pret­ty clin­i­cal process. They call your num­ber, scan your ID, and then move you along to anoth­er room where you sit until you go into a third room to see your “bud ten­der.” He or she asks you what you’re look­ing for: a body buzz or more of a head high? Some­thing for aches and pains or some­thing that might make your next hike more enjoy­able? Do you want to smoke it or eat it? Have you tried an edi­ble pot can­dy like a choco­late bar or gum­my worm?

The Col­orado pot store, you soon real­ize, is not like the polling place. If you’re in line by 7 p.m., you can still vote. At the pot shop the cash reg­is­ter blinks out at 7 on the dot. It can get a lit­tle tense around a quar­ter to.

Peo­ple there look like any­body, real­ly. You’ve got your busi­ness­man, your scrag­gly line cook, your punk rock chick, your yup­pie. Those not wear­ing ear buds might make small talk about what strains of mar­i­jua­na they like. The clean-cut guy next to me said he was — no joke — a beta-tester for video games. He was hop­ing the store still sold a pre-rolled joint he likes called “The Void.” A cou­ple hits of that, and you’re in the zone. He told me he was one of those “hor­ri­ble peo­ple” who did­n’t vote. Lat­er, I’d see him at the pay counter look­ing skep­ti­cal as a tall guy in line asked if he’d ever smoked so much weed that he blacked out. The tall guy went on about how if you sit on your couch and just smoke up as much as you can and then stand up real fast, you can pur­pose­ful­ly lose con­scious­ness. I’m not so sure about that.

That night, the local bal­lot mea­sure aimed at stop­ping the store from sell­ing recre­ation­al pot failed 64–36. I’d like to believe the tall guy came to long enough to cast a vote. The store, Mag­gie’s Farm in Man­i­tou Springs, Col­orado, will be able to con­tin­ue sell­ing mar­i­jua­na to any­one over 21 who comes in and wants to buy some.

But that tiny cor­ner of Amer­i­ca was­n’t alone on Elec­tion Day 2014. Pro-mar­i­jua­na mea­sures passed in states through­out the coun­try where vot­ers got to choose. Ore­gon and Alas­ka, for instance, will become the third and fourth states with recre­ation­al mar­i­jua­na mar­kets, fol­low­ing Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton State. In the nation’s cap­i­tal, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., you will no longer be arrest­ed for get­ting caught with small amounts of weed. You can grow it too, in the Dis­trict, but you just can’t sell it. Mean­while, the U.S. ter­ri­to­ry of Guam will now allow med­ical mar­i­jua­na. (Mar­i­jua­na, it should be not­ed, is still ille­gal at the fed­er­al lev­el, which has com­pli­cat­ed the way pot indus­try work­ers han­dle the bank­ing side of it.)

Back in Man­i­tou Springs, Col­orado, the “wel­come to the future” man behind the counter of my local pot shop had­n’t seemed too con­cerned about what the vot­ers might do. Appar­ent­ly he had good reason.

A few days lat­er I saw him cross­ing the street down­town as I wait­ed at a stop­light. I rolled down the win­dow and yelled out, “Con­grat­u­la­tions on the vote!” He smiled wide and gave a big thumbs up. He’s an Amer­i­can who sells mar­i­jua­na for a liv­ing, and, at least for now, he real­ly does­n’t have that much to wor­ry about.

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