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.