Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado Springs, but you still can’t purchase weed in the city without a red card. The options for the recreational smoker aren’t ideal: Denver and Pueblo are both a drive, and an eighth from one of Manitou Springs’ two rec stores carries a street drug price tag. But there’s always the old-fashioned way: Call a dealer and meet up in a parking lot somewhere.
Yes, people still do that.
“Mike” is one of what he estimates to be about 15 dealers operating in the Springs. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he started using marijuana at age 17, began dealing as a young adult and has continued selling off and on since.
Forget your faded memories of men in JNCO jeans selling either pull-apart Mexican brick weed or the longed-for baggies of “kind bud.” Mike does not carry a beeper and probably isn’t going to make you smoke him out on your thrift store couch.
Dealing has evolved along with the rest of the cannabis industry. After the Compassionate Use Act passed in 1996, decriminalizing medical marijuana in California, Mike and a few friends came up with an idea that would later turn into his current business model: selling weed to housebound medical patients.
At the time, he didn’t just deliver weed to those in need. Mike was also a dedicated grower and extractor.
After moving his family from California to Colorado a couple years ago, he says it was hard to find work. An ex-con who’s done time on felony drug charges, Mike found that even jobs in dispensaries are out of reach in Colorado, where such past convictions bar one from getting a MED occupational license. The license is required by the state to work in the industry.
Currently, Mike is unable to run his own grow operation, but he still deals. He gets weed from a variety of sources. Sometimes he’s able to get a good deal from someone who grows, other times he finds good deals in Denver and picks up a few ounces to be redistributed in the Springs. And sometimes a buddy in town is able to grab him an ounce from one of the medical shops, where prices tend to be lower.
Mike says he tries to put his customers first — they are usually red card-holding customers who can’t drive themselves. If he can’t get them product, he may even send another dealer their direction; helping people in need is more important than making money, he says.
Mike put an ad online months ago boasting weed delivered to your door, or a parking lot near you, at reasonable prices. (Marijuana delivery, even from legal businesses, is illegal in Colorado, though the state Legislature has mulled the issue before and is considering introducing a delivery pilot program this session under House Bill 1092.) The ad drew a slew of responses from people from all walks of life. There were military spouses who can’t be seen walking into a dispensary because it could risk their spouse’s career. There were cancer patients who barely have the energy to leave their homes. Other responders included recreational users who don’t own a car, and high schoolers thinking they’ll pull a fast one on their parents.
The overwhelming response forced Mike to come up with some ground rules regarding whom he would serve. First and foremost: No minors!
“I wouldn’t want a stranger selling dope to my kids and I’m not going to do that to someone else,” Mike says. In addition to only serving adults, he prefers to stick to selling smaller amounts, eighths and quarters. “Texting me at midnight asking for a pound is a great way to get ignored,” he said.
Though dealing is still illegal, Mike has learned a few ways to work around the law. The big key: In Colorado it is legal for someone to hand weed to an adult over the age of 21, they just can’t accept payment for it. Mike, therefore, has adopted a model similar to what many cannabis consumption clubs once used: He claims that he’s donating his weed to customers, and asks for donations for gas money.
Mike is also aware that getting caught distributing weed or other drugs from a car can result in the car being impounded. Obviously, losing a vehicle is not an option, so to cover all of his bases if someone new or a little suspicious texts him, he simply parks about a block from the designated meet-up spot and walks the rest of the way. Even in the worst case scenario, at least he’s not out of a car.
“There will always be a black market or illegal dealers,” Mike says, pointing to California, where a gram of wax can go for over $100 in recreational shops, as an example.
Besides, Mike says he’s providing a valuable service to people who aren’t able to leave the house to get cannabis.
Someday, though, he hopes to go “legit” and open the first-ever dispensary for the blind and deaf — inspired by a loved one — where there would be Braille menus and all the budtenders would know American Sign Language.
He realizes his past will create plenty of legal hoops for him to jump through before he can fulfill that dream, but he says it will be worth it.