The pungent smell of cannabis permeates the air in front of the row of industrial buildings on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado. I’ve arrived at Bloom County Growers, a 2,000-square-foot operation that grows cannabis for both medical and recreational sales. Beautiful buds – Durban Poison, Grape Stomper, Bubba OG – grow alongside each other. The only difference that makes one plant medical and another recreational lies in the RFID tracking tag wrapped around the stem – yellow for the medical herb and blue for the recreational.
“It’s all very strange,” grower Scott Pope said of the dual recreational and medical cannabis markets present in Colorado.
Pope’s grow contains about 70 percent retail marijuana plants and 30 percent medical marijuana plants.
Through the state’s implementation of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012, all recreational marijuana outlets in Colorado are former medical dispensaries, the only type of business eligible to apply for the state’s recreational licenses at this time.
While some dispensaries have taken the full leap into the recreational marketplace many, like AMA Denver, operate as recreational and medical suppliers. When one enters AMA an ID check will confirm whether a customer carries a medical “red card” or is 21 or older, as required to make a recreational purchase.
Manager Salena Salazar explains the selection of flowers and waxes available at AMA are the same for both medical and recreational customers. The main difference is the price; the recreational cannabis comes with a 21 percent sales tax.
“People are happy to pay it,” Salazar said. “I’ve never seen someone so happy to pay that much sales tax.”
Another major difference between recreational and medical purchases in Colorado is in the edible sector. Recreational edibles are capped at 100 milligrams and companies, such as Edipure, have begun making edibles within these limitations to specifically cater to the recreational market.
Salazar says many recreational tourists enjoy purchasing edibles as Colorado limits on-site as well as “open and public” consumption. If tourists buy weed, they often wonder “where they can smoke it and be safe about it,” she says.
For Pope, who grows the strains available at AMA, sampling the products is all part of the job.
“It’s like having a vineyard, I have to taste the grapes,” he said, noting his favorite strain is the OG Bubba. “It’s got the best smell and the best high. Not too up and not too down. Not too jittery and paranoid.”
Pope’s grow is located in an area where others were growing cannabis illegally both next door and across the street. The Denver police, Pope said, came into his grow when they raided the illegal operations and told him not to worry as they were taking out his competition. On that day he was making kief and the police where asking him about the process.
“They said ‘Hey Sarge, come look at this kief over here’ it’s surreal sometimes,” he said.
Grower Mike Quintanilla said when recreational cannabis became available in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014 many people were excited and stood in line to mark history and the end of cannabis prohibition. There will always be a recreational cannabis demand with tourists, he said, but locals will save money by keeping their medical cards.
Quintanilla worked with the local school district for 20 years before entering growing professionally.
“People ask what I do now and I say I work for an all-girls school,” he said.
Both Quintanilla and Pope are excited about the Colorado cannabis industry.
“This is the biggest thing since dot.com,” Pope said.
“Only I don’t see a bubble yet,” Quintanilla added.
Salazar is also embracing the legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado.
“It’s definitely awesome. I hope it goes all over,” she said. “We see at least two people a day that are planning to move to Colorado for the recreational [marijuana].”