Marijuana 101: Educating and destigmatizing legal pot in Telluride
TELLURIDE — Business has certainly increased this month at the Telluride Bud Company since Colorado legalized retail marijuana sales on Jan. 1. Owner Adam Raleigh’s biggest challenge hasn’t been keeping up with demand, though. It’s been educating his new customer base about modern cannabis use.
Nearly every five minutes, there’s the sound of snow being dusted off feet, then thumping footsteps as customers descend the stairs into the basement of 135 S. Spruce St., just across the street from the Telluride Marshal’s Department.
The air is filled with the pungent smell of marijuana. It fills customers’ lungs and stings their eyes. The excitement of buying pot makes them giddy.
A young woman in plain street clothes, a man fresh off the slopes wearing a blue ski jacket, and an older man with an adult grandson in tow all arrived in the waiting room anxious for their turn to buy.
“I drove all the way from Montrose today just to finally buy pot after 30 years of it being illegal,” said a smiling older man with a long gray beard, “I’ve brought 100 dollars. What can I get?”
Raleigh, a graduate of the Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif. which specializes in cannabis science, started the process of educating another retail buyer.
“That’s been the biggest hurdle,” Raleigh said while explaining education was a key component of his business. Since opening in 2010 as a medical marijuana dispensary, he had taught his returning customers most of what they needed to know to self-medicate, but now “I’ve had to reteach everybody about everything.”
He begins by explaining the two basic types of marijuana — sativa and indica — and asks customers questions about what type of “body buzz” they’re looking for.
Similar to selecting a fine wine, Raleigh encourages his customers to take in the full aroma of each blend.
Raleigh grows up to 30 strains of marijuana in the basement facility. The more popular strains include Big Band Oak, Chem Dawg, and Durban Poison. The Chunky Cherry Malawi is the house special.
“I always say the nose knows,” Raleigh said with a laugh.
The Telluride Bud Company also carries edibles such as the popular Cheeba Chews, a marijuana-infused candy similar to a Tootsie Roll. Each candy contains four doses of the drug.
“Right now most of our customers buy a mix of 60 percent marijuana, and then maybe 40 percent edibles,” he said
Then, Raleigh explains price, weight and the nuances of lighting up. “I try to tell people that the smallest amount possible will give you the biggest bang for your buck,” he said.
That buck can add up fast.
An eighth of an ounce of marijuana costs $45, but there is a 25 percent sales tax added, making it $56.25. A quarter of an ounce is $112.50 after taxes and an ounce averages $450. There are different prices for different strains and limits to the amount of product in-state and out-of-state customers can purchase.
The education process lengthens the transaction, but people are willing to wait.
A steady stream of new customers has walked through the door this month, coming from across the state, across the country or even from around the world to buy retail marijuana in Telluride, just because they can.
“I’ve seen people from every walk of life,” Raleigh said, “I’ve literally seen everybody from the little gray-haired New York mother all the way down to the 21-year-old who just got his license to come in.”
Despite the new law, buying marijuana still feels illegal.
Raleigh said his business and customers are fighting a strong stigma associated with cannabis.
“The biggest hurdle has been the stigma. We’re basically breaking down the 72 or 73 years of prohibition and really trying to teach these people that we’re safer and less harmful than alcohol,” he explained.
But, with the passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado and a similar measure in Washington, Raleigh feels like the stigma is slowly dissolving.
“I see a real conversation starting up between families,” he said. Many of his customers are related, father and sons, grandparents and grandchildren. “We don’t have to hide it from each other anymore.”
The demand for retail marijuana across Colorado has been so high this month that many retail shops are raising prices or limiting the amount customers can buy.
Raleigh isn’t in that situation yet. Foreseeing a rush in sales, he began stockpiling his supply months ago.
“But I am almost to the point where I’ll have to re-evaluate our supply and decide if we need to find product from another source or if we can keep up,” he said.