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I went to a marijuana dispensary in Colorado and it felt just like visiting a wine store

Weed dispensary counterKent Kanouse

I don’t smoke marijuana, but I recently visited Colorado and decided to check out a marijuana dispensary.

Colorado’s tourism industry has been skyrocketing, and many claim it’s due to January 2014’s legalization of the possession and sale of cannabis.

Whether that’s true or not, dispensaries are estimated to have brought in
$US295 million in sales as well as $US51 million in tax revenue in 2014. Colorado is ranked
one of the fastest-growing economies in the country, and its unemployment rate has seen the biggest drop in the US.

So when I saw that Telluride, a tiny town (population 2,319) I’ve been visiting biannually for the last 15+ years, suddenly boasted four marijuana dispensaries (and only two pharmacies, to put it into perspective), I had to check one out for myself. My dad and brother came along for the ride.

Weed dispensary entranceSophie-Claire Hoeller/Business Insider

We decided to visit the Alpine Wellness dispensary, possibly for its scenic and spa-like name. It was up a flight of stairs inside one of those little shopping plazas, and in fact shared its space with a masseuse. From the outside it was barely distinguishable from a day spa or doctor’s office.

A bearded man in a bright yellow shirt and red hat was perched at the front desk and enthusiastically waved us inside. Smiling broadly, he apologetically asked us for ID (even from my 60-something father).

Marijuana is legal, but, like with alcohol, you have to be 21 to purchase any. Looking our IDs over, he told us to sit tight until the salesperson finished up with other customers, so we hung around in a sort of sterile waiting room. The only thing differentiating it from a doctor’s office were the psychedelic, tie-dye heavy posters on the walls.

Only a minute later the “budtender” was ready for us, beaming as she summoned us into the main room, which was lined with counters full of various cannabis strains (with names like Jabberwocky and G-Funk), pre-rolled joints, oils, creams and gels, lip balms, and homemade edibles ranging from watermelon caramels to peanut butter dipped in dark chocolate. Apparently, everything there contained “100% organic soil-grown cannabis.”

Weed dispensary lineSophie-Claire Hoeller/Business Insider

A line formed behind us as we peppered the budtender with questions. Basically, you tell her what kind of a high you’re looking for, and she explains the various products until you find one that’s just right.

I learned that most marijuana comes in one of two strains: Indica or Sativa. Indicas are more about a buzzy body high, and said to aid sleep and pain relief. This is the kind of high that will have you melting into your couch clutching a pint of Rocky Road, unable to form complete thoughts or finish sentences, wondering whether you said what you meant to say, or whether you said anything at all in the last 5 to 50 minutes.

Sativa-dominant strains, on the other hand, are more energizing and mentally stimulating. That’s the strain that will have you animatedly discussing dinosaurs versus zombies while blasting some Berlin electro.

Finally, there are hybrid strains that mix these two in different proportions.

Weed dispensary productsSophie-Claire Hoeller/Business Insider

After explaining to the budtender that we were looking for something mellow, she recommended a strain called MeltDown, which, she assured us — despite the name — would be good for a nice, light buzz. An eighth cost $US40 and came packaged in a small brown paper bag.

While definitely on the hippie side, the experience of visiting a marijuana dispensary was straightforward and pleasant — not at all sketchy as I had anticipated.

Really, it reminded me of a fancy wine shop, where customers defer to a connoisseur who knows the products well and can recommend something to each person’s liking.

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