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Friday, Jul 18 2014 06:12 PM

ROBERT PRICE: My visit to a Denver marijuana store

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    Robert Price is The Californian's executive editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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BY ROBERT PRICE, Californian executive editor rprice@bakersfield.com

Our first clue that we were in the vicinity of a marijuana shop was the sight of an addled but enthusiastic man dancing along the sidewalk.

“Welc’m to Caw-luh-RAAAAH-doh!” he shouted in our general direction, giggling so tweakfully that he missed his bus. It was pulling away at that very moment, to his sudden alarm.

If this was a typical pot-shop client, I wasn’t sure I was much interested in peeking inside the store itself. But I’d come this far.

The LivWell Enlightened Health marijuana store on South Broadway — one of the company’s five Denver-area outlets — is in a clean, well-traveled, semi-residential section of the city, across the street from a Sam’s Club and an upscale hamburger place. The LivWell store itself is in a nice, freestanding beige-brick structure that might have been a professional building at one time.

We were greeted by a cheery receptionist who asked for our IDs (yes, even mine) and directed us to a line of about a dozen customers waiting outside of an interior doorway.

“Keep your IDs handy,” she said above the soft Bob Marley background soundtrack, “because your budtender will need to see them too.”

Budtender. Cute.

None of the other customers even remotely resembled the happily crazed man we’d see down the street. A couple of waiting clients looked like they’d spent some time in a few biker bars, but most looked like regular folks running mundane after-work errands. One wore a tie. On any other day he might have been picking up a gallon of milk at the 7-Eleven. Today, I imagined, he just happened to be running low on another household commodity — weed.

After about a 15-minute wait we were ushered in to a long, narrow room with a long glass display case, a bit like a jewelry store counter. Our budtender, an amiable young man who looked to be about 25, introduced himself and showed us around. Over here were the edibles — brownies, THC-infused gummy bears and other goodies. Over there were pipes, rolling papers and other paraphernalia. And other there, behind the glass case, was the main attraction, the ganja itself.

Three glass shelves held large, clear cookie jars containing dark green buds with whiskery orange and yellow tufts. Each jar contained a different variety of Colorado-grown cannabis. Labels affixed to each jar had names like Alien Inferno #10 and Platinum Dairy Queen.

Our budtender pulled out two jars from the top shelf, brought out a pair of chopsticks and selected a bud from one jar. He held it up so we could look and sniff more closely.

“This one’s Banana Kush,” he informed us helpfully. After we had inspected the $9-per-gram morsel for a minute or so, he dropped it back into the jar and grabbed a bud from the other one.

“Knights of Templar. This one I can feel right at the top of my head,” he announced, indicating the area by circling his index finger around his crown. “You’re cool, you’re functional, but you can just feel it right here.”

It was like associating assorted zinfandels with the position of affected taste bud receptors.

Our budtender hadn’t even blinked when I showed him my California driver’s license. In the course of our conservation it became clear why.

Fifty percent of this particular store’s clients are from outside Colorado, he told us; statewide, observers have put the number at 44 percent. Maybe that explained why the crazy man outside had felt it appropriate to welcome us to his weed-embracing state. No camera, no Bermuda shorts, but evidently I had “tourist” written all over my face.

I didn’t buy any pot, for a couple of reasons, but I was interested in the transactions taking place all around me. Credit cards aren’t accepted because, for now anyway, banks are subject to certain federal laws barring their participation. Debit cards are accepted, though, as is cash, of course.

Marijuana purchases are subject to a 21 percent state sales tax — an add-on fee that came out to about $35 million from both recreational and medical marijuana sales for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The first $40 million, by law, will go to Colorado schools.

Most of the doom that opponents of the Colorado law forecast has yet to come to pass. Crime rates are down in Denver, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data: The state has seen a 10 percent decrease in overall crime from 2013 and a 5 percent drop in violent crime.

Colorado will save money on the law enforcement and corrections side, too: By one knowledgeable estimate, the state has been spending $60 million each year enforcing marijuana laws based on possession levels that are now legal. Colorado has averaged more than 10,000 arrests and citations every year for minor marijuana possession at the levels that are now acceptable.

The apparent overall success of Colorado’s law has been so encouraging that the GOP-dominated House last week voted to prohibit law enforcement from going after banks for doing business with state-licensed marijuana growers and sellers. Credit the shift in thinking among Republicans on this and other marijuana-related issues to the libertarian leanings of tea party-affiliated members of Congress.

Perhaps encouraged that the Apocalypse has not descended on America, Washington state has taken the same step as Colorado and decriminalized the personal-use-sized sale of marijuana. Law enforcement is wary nonetheless, and that’s not a bad thing: A new public service campaign is already under way there: “Drive High, Get a DUI.”

Washington’s pot-head drivers shouldn’t be too hard to catch. Unlike alcohol-impaired knuckleheads who tend to speed and wobble in and out of traffic lanes, stoners prefer to take it slow. As in 12 mph slow. Hopefully, a good number of them will play it safe and start taking the bus. As long as they’re not seized by the urge to wander away from the bus stop to greet marijuana tourists, they should be fine.

Email Executive Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com. The views expressed are his own.

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