It was 7:00 p.m. on a Wednesday in January, but it felt like a Friday night in downtown Denver. Couples and groups of friends softly chatted as they waited their turn to enter. Judging by the crowds, you could easily think this was Colorado’s hottest club, if not for the faintly sweet smell of marijuana permeating the premises.
Welcome to the world of legal recreational weed. The billion-dollar business of hydroponic grow labs and craft dispensaries has meant big money for Colorado since the drug was legalized. With Airbnb reservations up 68% from 2016 to 2017 and Colorado schools getting a reported tens of millions a year from marijuana tax revenue, it seems like everyone is cashing in on the state’s “green rush.” Local Girl Scouts even got to the ok to sell their cookies outside weed dispensaries.
But as visitors flock to the state for cannabis tourism, some businesses offer a bang for their buck while others are more predatory. I spent a few days in the mile high city earlier this year to suss out the best way for a budget traveler to legally smoke marijuana in Denver. Speaking to everyone from hotel workers to budtenders (yes, that’s a really job) to Uber drivers, the research was difficult, but someone has do it.
Whether you’re first-time pot smoker or long-time stoner, here’s my guide to saving money while imbibing responsibly.
A word to the wise: bring a valid-photo ID if you wish to enter a dispensary. This is a hard and fast rule no matter where you go. If you’re not American, I would recommend bringing your passport, as some dispensaries reportedly accept international driver’s licenses, while others may not.
1. Stay away from the touristic weed dispensaries.
If this is not your first time smoking marijuana and you know what you want to buy, it’s worth it to check out some of the off-the-beaten path stores. I noticed anywhere from a 20 to 100% markup at a downtown spot catering to visitors versus a dispensary that was still centrally located but not as touristic.
Locals recommend include Euflora, Good Chemistry, Cannabis Station and Mile High Green Cross. Try using Weedmaps or CannaMaps for other spots. You can filter by strain of marijuana, location, price and a number of other variables.
2. Bring your own cash.
Since marijuana exists in a legal loophole in that it is not federally legal, transactions are generally in cash. I made this mistake myself and had to go back to the hotel room, only to have my debit card not work at the dispensary. The employee said that this sometimes happens, as their machine processes the payment as if they were an ATM, although it is not. Mine was an extreme case, as I was then shut out of my card for 24-hours since my bank thought I was stealing my own card.
All that being said: bring cash to Denver’s legal weed dispensaries . Some stores apparently CAN process credit cards, but in order to save yourself a potential headache, bring the green backs. Many also have high surcharges on debit card transactions (between $3 – $5), so if you bring moolah from your own bank you’ll save a few bucks.
3. If you know how to roll a joint, buy ‘flowers’ or loose weed.
The price per joint is around $6.00 – $8.00 and contains (on average) a little less than a half a gram, while a gram is usually around the same price, if you buy eighth or 3.5 grams. It is much more economical to buy your own pot and roll it yourself.
4. Do not smoke in your hotel room.
Public consumption of marijuana is banned in Denver and comes with up to $150 in fines. But that doesn’t mean you should smoke in your hotel room.
Unless it is advertised as 420-friendly, meaning it’s ok to smoke inside, toking inside your hotel will result in a charge for at least one extra night, as they need to air out the room for other clients. The same goes for Airbnb.
If you’re dead set on enjoying a blunt, consider booking a hotel or Airbnb that is ok with smoking. There’s one so-called bud-and-breakfast whose owner reportedly brings in over $1 million a year catering to recreational weed tourists.
If the idea of daily wake-and-bake brunches is a too much for you, consider one of Denver’s private marijuana clubs. These social lounges operate in a legal grey area, and often require a monthly membership fee of around $15 to enter. Here’s a list of some.
A word to the wise: if you’re planning on enjoying your pot purchases in the great outdoors while in Colorado, stay away from national parks, forests and monuments. Since they are operated by the federal government, it is illegal to smoke inside any of those areas. It comes with a hefty fine and up to six months in jail, which sounds like a terrible end to a vacation.