Here’s the dope on Colorado’s pot laws 


click to enlarge No, you don’t have to roll your own joints. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • No, you don’t have to roll your own joints.
Colorado is rolling in the green.

More than five years after the state decriminalized recreational marijuana, our sweeping mountain vistas, legendary recreational opportunities, world-class cities and great amenities are no longer the only draws for out-of-state guests. (It’s OK to admit why you’re really here… we’ve heard it before.)

But here’s the deal: When we legalized the state’s green giant, we also gave local governments the right to decide whether they were going to permit retail sales within their boundaries. Different communities naturally responded differently. Colorado Springs and El Paso County nixed the idea, whereas their neighbors to the north (Denver), west (Manitou Springs) and south (Pueblo) embraced the industry with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Whether you’re a new addition to the state or just passing through and want to experience that fabled Rocky Mountain high, there are some critical details to keep in mind. Here’s a primer to help you enjoy yourself without running into problems with either the fuzz or the buzz.


Wait? What about all those green crosses I’m seeing all over the city? Aren’t those marijuana shops?

Well, yes and no. Those are medicinal dispensaries and are limited to Colorado residents with state-issued red cards for the treatment of doctor-verified ailments. So how do you go about getting one of those cards? It’s a multi-step process. After getting a signed certification form from your doc diagnosing your condition, you will need to complete an application, available online through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. You will need to create an account, then upload your application, a copy of either a state-issued ID such as a driver’s license or a proof of residency form, your social security number and a caregiver’s ID if you are applying with said caregiver. You will also have to pay a $25, non-refundable fee, according to the state site. For those patients who lack access to the internet, applications may be sent through the U.S. Mail. Approval times can be anywhere from a few days if an application is submitted digitally to several weeks if mailed. Once you get your red card, you’re all set to shop local, but be warned: It’s illegal under federal law for a marijuana user to purchase and carry a gun.

However: If you’re a visitor or a Colorado resident and you’re 21 or older, you can shop 
recreational pot retailers. It’s legal for you to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana flower or 800 milligrams of THC in edibles or 8 grams of concentrate, or mix and match. Possessing more could get you anything from a petty drug offense to a felony.

McLovin those IDs:

As with booze, the minimum age for purchasing recreational marijuana in Colorado is 21. And since recreational shops will ID you at least twice, don’t even think about trying to pass off a fake document, McLovin. Oh, and it goes without saying that it’s illegal to buy recreational pot for friends, family members or anyone else under the age of 21. Unless you’re excited about the possibility of a Class 1 felony and jail time, that is… in which case you’re probably not reading this. Colorado Springs takes underage consumption so seriously that it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to even be in possession of marijuana paraphernalia, like pipes.

Cash is king

Fun fact, marijuana is still illegal across much of the nation. The Drug Enforcement Agency classifies it a controlled substance, so banks, fearing they will be charged with money laundering, won’t allow Colorado-legal recreational pot shops to open accounts. That’s why in all of the region’s stores, cash is king. Credit and debit cards are no good, and checks, already having largely gone the way of the dodo, are non-starters. So plan accordingly and hit the ATM before you hit the road.

Imbibe safely

Which reminds us, unless you’re visiting a medical dispensary down the street, you will need to hop in the car. So don’t try to use that product until you get wherever you will be staying. Under Colorado law, drivers with 5 nanograms of active THC in their blood can be charged with driving under the influence. That can cost you more than $13,500 to resolve, in addition to jail time and the loss of your license, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. A fine like that isn’t the kind of vacation souvenir you want to bring home.
click to enlarge Don’t try to take your edibles out of state. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Don’t try to take your edibles out of state.

Behind closed doors

Where can you go to get high, then? In a word, inside. But like everything related to the industry, that’s not as clear-cut as it sounds.

Here in Colorado Springs, it’s illegal to consume pot in any street, alley, avenue, park, public stairway or hall or any public place. And this may go without saying, but it’s also illegal to break out the bong or nibble on that Mary Jane-infused nougat while in your car.

In addition, it’s illegal to use in state and national parks, on the ski slopes or at other public recreational outlets and at the state’s music and athletic venues. (Don’t tell the musicians that, though.) It also may be forbidden to strike up in your hotel room or rental unit. That being said, some lodges do offer 420-friendly rooms and lounges, so it doesn’t hurt to check with the front desk staff or your host.

As a general policy, if you don’t own the space or don’t have the permission of the pot-friendly person who does, keep the green under wraps.

Put down the Bunsen burner...

This, too, may go without saying, but making marijuana concentrates (aka hash oil) in your home is illegal. Why? Because mixing flammable gas, flammable liquid or any other solvent intended to extract THC with heat is really, really dangerous. So step away from that home chemistry set, Beaker. It’s not worth the risk, the potential criminal charges or the possible explosion.

Employers’ discretion

Here’s another rub about being a legal consumer in a nation where marijuana is federally prohibited — when it comes to employee consumption, the boss’ decision reigns. What does that mean? If you’re moving here and job hunting, you may want to wrap up that employment contract before you roll up that joint. Employers have the discretion to maintain drug-free policies and require tests to enforce those regulations.

Fly away

If Colorado isn’t destined to be your final destination then we hate to tell you, but you’ll have to plan your consumption accordingly. Although marijuana is legal here, the simple fact is that it may not be legal wherever you’re headed. And even if it were, you can’t legally travel with it across state lines. So keep that in mind when you step up to the counter for the first time, and budget accordingly. It would suck to have your last dance with Mary Jane cut short because you had to keep movin’ on.


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