It’s hard to pin down just how long some people have waited for this day, but March 5, 2014, will go down as the historic date when anyone 21 and older could buy recreational marijuana legally in Aspen and Pitkin County.
Laws were put into place in 1937 prohibiting the use of the herb in the United States. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in the past decade, 6.5 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges, a greater number than the entire populations of seven states and the District of Columbia combined.
The people of Colorado voted to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 2000 and voted to decriminalize marijuana in 2012, leading up to the first recreational shops opening in the state on Jan. 1 of this year.
Two shops opened in Pitkin County Wednesday to sell recreational marijuana — Stash, located at the Aspen Business Center, opened Wednesday at 9 a.m., while Silverpeak Apothecary in Aspen opened its doors at 1 p.m.
There was no customer line at Stash at 9 a.m., but customers began to regularly file in by 9:30 a.m.
“It’s silly that smoking was a criminal act,” said Jenn, who gave only her first name, one of the first customers to purchase recreational marijuana at Stash. “With all the drinking and alcohol abuse, ... I think pot is harmless. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”
Bryan Welker, 38, does marketing locally and showed up at Stash on Wednesday morning to shoot some pictures and take in the scene. When Welker realized he was first in line and could be the first recreational customer in Pitkin County, he enjoyed the “happy accident” and bought some marijuana.
“It does feel like I’m supporting the long tradition of being a bit of a rebel that Aspen kind of fosters,” Welker said. “It’s a unique and fun thing to be part of and a little historic. This should have been legal a long time ago. Science is 100 percent clear that alcohol and prescription drugs are far, far more harmful to society than marijuana.”
For both Welker and Jenn, it was about time that marijuana was available legally. Both agreed it was a personal choice that shouldn’t be controlled by the government, and both didn’t mind paying a little extra right now for the recreational weed.
Paying “a little extra” may have been an understatement. The prices were high at both shops for recreational pot compared with medical prices. Not only was there the 37 percent tax rate on the sale of recreational marijuana, but both shop owners decided to start out with prices that were up to four times more expensive than comparable medical marijuana amounts.
At Silverpeak, the medical price for an eighth of an ounce of the “Jilly Bean” strain of marijuana was near $40. To buy the same amount recreationally on Wednesday, the cost was $105 before taxes.
Welker said he hopes the prices will balance out and drop once the initial wave of excitement concerning legal recreational pot passes.
“If the prices continue to stay as high as they are now, there’s a chance the market will seek better prices from underground sources,” Welker said. “Now that it’s legal, this industry is moving beyond the back-alley deals, and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to that, but price drives everything. For me, it’s better to pay our government a little extra than the cartels. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that.”
There was no average age at either shop Wednesday, with customers ranging from their early 20s to folks in their 60s and 70s.
A couple from Texas came into Stash early Wednesday and didn’t want to use their names but said they were in their 60s and hadn’t smoked any marijuana for more than 35 years.
“It may be better on you than alcohol, so we’re going to try it,” the husband said.
The couple also bought a vaporizing unit to partake with. A vaporizer is an alternative to burning marijuana or tobacco that avoids the inhalation of many irritating toxic and carcinogenic byproducts.
“We don’t like the smell and how the odor soaks into everything,” the wife said. “A vaporizer is supposed to be easier on your lungs, so we’ll give it a shot.”
At Silverpeak Apothecary, a moderate line formed before the 1 p.m. opening and stayed steady for most of the afternoon, with business picking up as the day went on.
“It was a great first day,” said Silverpeak owner Jordan Lewis. “If our early returns are any indication and with more advertising and word-of-mouth, I think we’re going to do real well.”
Ellen Haas, 72, who lives in Basalt, was the first medical marijuana customer/patient to purchase from Silverpeak Apothecary four years ago. She returned Wednesday and was ushered to the front of the line to become the ceremonial first recreational customer at Silverpeak.
Haas suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and smokes marijuana to ease the pain in her joints. Haas considers Lewis like a caretaker for her.
“He knows what’s good for me and recommends what he thinks is best for my condition,” she said. “I trust him completely.”
Haas smoked marijuana to help with her arthritis before medical marijuana was available. She has adult children that she discusses her marijuana use with. She talked to her kids about the benefits of marijuana and how it helps her.
“I think it should be legalized, and I’m surprised it took so long,” Haas said. “It should be something that’s available to everyone of the proper age.”
After Haas made the first recreational purchase in Aspen, both Hass and Lewis signed a Silverpeak T-shirt that will be donated to the Aspen Historic Society.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo was at Silverpeak at 1 p.m. He’s been working with Lewis as part of the Valley Marijuana Council and was curious to see the reaction from the public concerning the first recreational outlet in Aspen.
“I’m here because it’s a historic occasion for Aspen and the state,” DiSalvo said. “I’m also interested because of our Valley Marijuana Council. We’re going to have another meeting tomorrow with the middle school about responsibilities. I’d like to see this happen and happen responsibly in Pitkin County. I believe Jordan is doing this the right way. I don’t know the business inside and out, that’s for sure, but this certainly seems like a well-thought-out project.”
The customers at Silverpeak were a mix of Roaring Fork Valley residents and people from all over the world, including Michigan, Florida, Texas and South Africa.
Jameel and his friend, Alessandra, who both gave only their first names, were visiting Aspen from Johannesburg to ski and hang out. Both were amazed to find recreational marijuana available.
“We felt like trying some fun gummy bears today,” Jameel said. “We visited another shop down the road, but all they had was medical-use marijuana, and they directed us here to Silverpeak. This is exciting and awesome. It’s a completely new concept to us to buy marijuana over the counter.”