Colorado is a stoner’s dream. Weed is legal, it’s easy to find, and if you look hard enough, it’s sometimes even fairly priced.

Pot ShopBut when you’re an out-of-state visitor, a legalization newbie, so to speak, one thought is guaranteed to hit you as you walk in the door of your very first pot shop: This place is kind of a shit hole.

From a distance, it’s understandable that the sight of a heavily fortified store more than a little short on capital improvement would shock the uninitiated. Ever since the state approved legal marijuana in 2012, we’ve been inundated with news stories, Internet videos, and even tales from weed proponents, all selling the idea that pot is just like liquor now.

Well, that certainly isn’t true.

At a liquor store, you walk in the front door, beeline for your favorite hooch, take it back to the counter, show your ID, and walk out the door with nary a sideways glance. And you can buy as much as you want without involving the fuzz.

At a pot shop, even in free-wheeling Colorado, you can’t get in the front door without flashing your driver’s license and enduring a slow once-over from a budtender who probably sold grass to teenagers before he got the job.

The good stuff is usually in a well-guarded back room, and you have to get buzzed in. The ATM is typically up front, and they definitely won’t take credit, so you have to have a good idea of what you’re going to buy before you head to the back.

The security is understandable, mostly. Marijuana stores are still forced to deal almost exclusively in cash. A small number of “green-friendly” credit providers have agreed to work with the industry, but their services aren’t easy to come by. You don’t want just anyone in your sale room when everyone knows you keep hoards of paper money around.

The general air of disrepair is another issue. No pothead cares all that much what kind of wallpaper they have to look at while buying weed, but it would be nice if some of these shops put a little money back into decor. Peeling walls and ancient shag aren’t appealing to anyone, even the kind of people who hang out at stores that sell weed.

Quality varies widely

marijuana leaf clearOf course, as in all things, quality varies widely. Some of the rattiest, most understaffed stores – the kind with tiny sale rooms and minimal selection – sell some of the world’s best cannabis, and at unbelievable prices. Some of the big, showy places, meanwhile, badly overcharge and aren’t always helpful to visitors.

That doesn’t mean legalization isn’t a great, great, great thing. The very fact that you can buy legal marijuana in strip malls and industrial parks across the American West is an unquestionable triumph of the human spirit.

But it would be even better if we could take the old line, “treat marijuana like alcohol,” and start acting like we mean it. The day when you can walk into a clean, well-lit store that isn’t hidden behind steel doors, lay your plastic on the counter, and walk straight to the sidewalk with a grocery bag full of Grape Ape – that’s the day we can say we’ve won.


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