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How Tourists Can Buy Marijuana in Colorado

Hey, it's perfectly legal. Colorado doesn't require a medical reason to purchase pot—and tourists can partake as well. But there are still rules. Here's what you need to know to buy a high.

To find a business that will sell to visitors, search for "recreational cannabis dispensary."

Some dispensaries only serve medical clients, but retail dispensaries are open to the public. Use PotGuide or Weedmaps to locate a facility and call ahead or check the website of the business to verify that it is open to public sales. 

Bring I.D. and cash . . . 

The eternal tussle between states' rights and federal law puts the burden on you. Credit card companies are wary of running afoul of federal law, which still classifies marijuana sales as illegal, so most credit card issuers are unwilling to risk prosecution (unlikely as it would be) by facilitating sales.

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Because of this, nearly all dispensaries have an ATM on the premises. Debit card usage may also be permitted.

Dispensaries generally take their licenses seriously and are extraordinarily careful about adhering to state standards, so your identification will be checked by a security guard before you are admitted into the main sales area.

...but you don't need tons of cash.

How much should you bring? A gram of "bud" or "flower," the terms for smokeable leaf, will average between $10 and $15.

Customers are technically permitted to buy only 1 ounce at a time (there are about 28 grams in an ounce, so you'd have to spend a lot before getting into the danger zone), but that ounce can be accumulated from multiple dispensaries. Marijuana leaf is light, so an ounce is way more than you'll need on a casual visit to the state.

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Dispensaries may sell you up to 8 grams of concentrates or edibles containing no more than 800 milligrams of THC.

You don't need to know exactly what you want.

After your I.D. passes muster, you'll be shown to the sales floor, where a clerk stands behind a glass case full of the dispensary's products. Staff members may handle the product, but you can't.

There may also be a binder or a menu that explains the various strains and blends. They tend to have names reminiscent of racehorses—Dairy Queen, Cheesequake, Kandy Apple, Gorilla Glue, Ghost Train Haze, and that old stoner's standby, Sour Diesel.

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Dispensaries are locked in an arms race over the best merchandise, the names of which will probably strike you as funny but not very useful. That's why every dispensary worth its salt employs staff that can tell you exactly what each strain will do to you.

But this isn't a winery—you cannot sample the goods.

Some basic cannabis knowledge helps.

Being familiar with the main varieties helps you know what to buy. Sativa (cerebrally focused effects), indica (body-focused effects), and a hybrid of the two are the three main schools. Your clerk will tell you how strong each one is.

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If you're a novice, don't jump into the deep end—that means none of the wax, shatter, or other cannabis forms for advanced users—and stick to low dosages, measured in milligrams, unless you want to spend your entire visit to Colorado in a useless haze. Once you pick what you want, the clerk might hand your selection to another staffer, who will fill your order in another area and return the product to you right before you exit.

Keep a lid on it.

Clerks will give you the product in sealed, carefully marked containers. Think of the contents like booze: You're not allowed to have an open container in the car with you.

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Keep everything wrapped until you are able to use it in a "private, personal" (the state's wording) place. 

Know the difference between THC and CBD.

THC is the compound that makes you high, and it's what the government is most interested in controlling. CBD, another chemical found in cannabis products, does not provide a high so it's often considered harmless. 

This article will help you navigate the differences.

There are still rules.

No giving your purchase to minors—minors can't even accompany you when you shop.

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No driving under the influence, either, which means you shouldn't partake of the dispensaries' infused candies and brownies (otherwise known as edibles, which generally require a few hours to take effect and have longer-lasting results for some people) unless you have no intention of going anywhere for a day. The same issues in the federal law over cannabis that affect paying with credit cards have also made it hard for anyone to develop a reliable roadside test for THC, so it's possible to get hauled in for not much more than suspicion. 

Colorado's legal limit for driving is 5 nanograms or less of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter of blood—but since you probably left your nanogram meter at home, best not to partake at all before driving.

To read the official warnings and rules about marijuana use in Colorado, check out the state's FAQ page by clicking here.

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Don't let anyone smell it.

No displaying your purchase or using it in public (although you will see people doing that) unless you want to risk 15 days in jail. Some locals might argue that those rules are theoretical and that officers ignore pot use all the time, but the fact is that you can be penalized. 

Some businesses, particularly in cities, have special permits allowing designated areas for pot smoking, but don't dare try bringing a stash onto federal lands. Those include military bases and national parks, so don't attempt a Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain high unless you want to be convicted of a federal crime, which leaves a mark on your background that can affect your life for years. 

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Don't take it out of state.

Sheriffs from some other states are miffed about Colorado's law, and not just because they're jealous of the tax revenue. (Colorado's weed regulation has been so successful that taxes it has raised have proved to be a boon for state services.)

Many people are driving over the border into Colorado, hitting dispensaries, and taking the goods back home. I was told at one Denver dispensary I visited that if a car looks like a mess, the driver risks being pulled over, but if the vehicle looks neat and professional, there probably won't be a problem.

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But the best strategy would be to avoid breaking the law in the first place.

Be careful if you smoke in a hotel.

If your hotel room has a no-smoking policy and you light a joint, you'll face a fine from the owners. If you go on your balcony and light up, you theoretically face a fine for public use.

The trouble and stink of smoking is why many people are turning to vaporizers, which are often mostly odorless. Dispensaries usually sell those, too.

For our story on buying recreational cannabis in the state of California, click here.

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