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How Tourists Can Buy Marijuana in Colorado

Hey, it's perfectly legal! Unlike California or other states with partial legalization of pot and cannabis products, Colorado doesn't require a medical reason to purchase it—tourists can partake as well. But it's not as easy as a McDonald's drive-through, and there are still rules. Here's what you need to know to buy a high:

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

There is more than one kind of dispensary—one for medical use and one for retail, which is kind that is open to the public and therefore the variety a tourist wants. Use High Times magazine's Weedmaps to locate a facility and call ahead or check its website to verify that it is open to public sales. Right now, because of strict ownership laws, all cannabis dispensaries are mom-and-pop businesses. In the first 10 months of 2014, those businesses generated more than $60 million in fees and taxes for the state.

Bring I.D. and cash...

The eternal tussle between states' rights and federal law creates a burden for you. Credit card companies are wary of running afoul of federal law, which still classifies marijuana sales as illegal, so most are unwilling to risk prosecution (unlikely as it would be) by facilitating sales. Because of this, nearly all dispensaries have an ATM on premises. For its part, 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 not too much cash

How much should you bring? An eighth of an ounce of "bud," the term for smokeable leaf, will cost between $40 and $60. Non-residents are technically only permitted to buy 1/4 ounce at a time, but nothing stops them from going to multiple dispensaries in one day. The maximum you may possess is an ounce. Don't forget that marijuana leaf is light, so that is way more than you'll need on a casual visit to the state.

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. There may also be a binder or a menu that explains the various strains and blends—those may include Dairy Queen, Cheesequake, Moonshine Haze, Blue Dream, Ghost Train Haze, and that old stoner's standby, Sour Diesel. Of course, because dispensaries are in an arms race over the best varieties, those will probably simply be funny names to you. That's why every dispensary worth its salt employs staff that can tell you exactly what each strain will do to you. Again, as the law matures into an industry, dispensaries want to be taken seriously, and they will talk you through the wares. But this isn't a winery—you cannot sample the goods.

Some basic cannabis knowledge helps.

Knowing the main varieties helps you know what to buy. Sativa (cerebrally focused effects), indica (body-focused effects), or a hybrid of the two are the three main schools. Your clerk will tell you how strong each one is. 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 select what you want, the clerk will hand your order to another staffer, who fills your order in another area and returns the product to you.

There are still rules.

No giving it to minors. No displaying it or using it in public (although you'll see people doing it) unless you want to tempt 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 businesess are permitted to run special areas for pot smoking, but don't dare try bringing it 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. No driving under the influence, either, which means you shouldn't partake of the dispensaries' infused candies and brownies ("edibles," which require more time to take effect and have longer-lasting results for some people) unless you have no intention of going anywhere for a day. There is a way to test for THC in the blood and police will not hesitate to do it if they suspect you're under the influence. To read the litany of warnings and rules about marijuana use in Colorado, check out the state's FAQ page by clicking here.

Keep a lid on it.

Clerks will give you the product in sealed, carefully marked containers. Think of it like booze: You're not allowed to have an open container of it in the car with you. Keep everything wrapped until you are able to use it in a "private, personal" (the state's wording) place.  

Don't take it out of state.

Sheriffs from New Mexico to Kansas are miffed about Colorado's new law, and not just because they're jealous of the tax revenue. (Colorado's new weed regulation has been so successful that it may trigger a tax refund for its citizens.) Many people are driving over the border into Colorado, hitting dispensaries, and taking the goods back home. One Denver dispensary I visited told me that if a car looks like a mess, the driver risks being pulled over, but if it looks neat and professional, they'll likely be fine. She may have been a little toked up; the solution isn't to peel the 420 sticker off your back bumper but to not break the law to begin with.

Be careful if you smoke it in your hotel.

If your hotel room has a no-smoking policy and you light a joint, you'll face a fine from your hotel. 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.

Image source: The Farm, Boulder, CO