Travel to Toke: Weed in D.C., Denver, Portland, and Barcelona

City Paper

In 2011, the great writer John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote an essay for the New York Times Magazine about, among other things, sneaking away with his old buddy to smoke a joint while shepherding their families through Disney World. His friend had found a forum with a “fiend’s guide to Disney World. It pinpointed the safest places for burning the proverbial rope, telling what in particular to watch for at each spot. Isolated footpaths that didn’t see much traffic, conventional smoking areas with good hedge cover, places where you could hide under a bridge by a little artificial river — those were its points of interest.” The main rule of this guide was, however, “Be ready to book it.” As in GTFO. And that’s not a bad rule of thumb for the smoker in a new city. Below is a "fiend's guide" to a few cities: D.C., Denver, Portland, and Barcelona

Washington D.C.

With Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions, a hard-line prohibitionist, as the nation’s top cop, D.C. is not the most obvious place to go for your weed needs. It is probably the closest American destination to Orlando where you can legally get your smoke on. But, like everything in that strange city, it is not easy to navigate.

The laws governing cannabis in the District are bizarre—and almost strangely utopian. A resident can grow six plants—12 per household—and give away up to an ounce. But you can’t buy or sell it or smoke it in public or in coffee shops or bars. It cuts out all of the money—or tries to. As everything in Washington, money will creep in.

But the skinny is, it is a terrible weed town for tourists and a great one for people who live there. Occasionally there will be a mass giveaway. As an act of civil disobedience, MJDC, the group that is primarily responsible for making it legal, gave away thousands of joints, which people openly burnt around Dupont Circle. The lines, it seemed, were about as long as, or longer than, those to get into the the inauguration.

If you really want to book it right now, there is the DC Edibles Fest on April 23. Dozens of vendors are signed up and, presumably, details are a little vague, your $25 ticket gets you access to those edibles, since you can’t legally purchase them from the vendors.

This is the way capitalism seems intent on entering the market. There are a number of services that allow you to make a donation for a delivery or buy something else—a popsicle or whatever—and it comes with weed.

But be careful. Weed is kosher in the District—but not on federal property.   And especially if you’re hanging around the tourist areas, it’s really hard to know when you are on federal land or not, so it’s best to assume you are. You probably won’t get searched, but you, if you can find any, you still don’t want to fire up with Lincoln at his memorial one night.

Denver, Colorado

We’d eaten the giant, green chile soaked burritos at Sam’s No. 3 Diner in downtown Denver, right after we got to town. It was near all the fancy convention hotels and stuff, but it was not a fancy place. Cheap burritos. Cheap beer. Open early, closing late, Sam’s stretches nearly an entire block. We loved it from the moment we walked in.

But not nearly as much as we did the next day, after we’d found Native Roots around the corner. Then it was out of this world good—the sizzle of the chile to the fizz of the beer, it felt ecstatic.

That’s because I’d eaten a couple edibles and had a couple hits from a vape pen.

In Denver, the weed stores are really beautiful. In Native Roots, you go in and they check your ID before letting you into the shopping area where you wait in line and then point out what you want from behind the counter. Bring cash, because of the violations of federal law, they won’t take credit or debit cards. You also aren’t allowed to consume on premises, so if you're staying at a regular hotel, get something discrete like a vape pen—or look for a hostel, hotel or Air BNB that is 420 friendly (they’re out there).

Another place, I can’t remember the name because I was so high, was set up more like an Apple store, with wooden floors and tables with big buds in jars with nets over the mouths, so you couldn’t touch the buds but could still smell them, and Ipads beside them with all of the relevant information.

But people aren’t just visiting Colorado for cannabis, they’re moving there. After recreational pot was legalized in 2012, the population grew by over 100,000. Even if you don’t smoke, the call of the weed is strong. The legal weed industry provided 18,000 jobs and generated nearly $2.5 billion dollars in 2015. Last year, in Denver, sales reached $1 billion.

But don’t pack up yet. According to some sources, this influx of people and money has also led to gentrification and a housing crisis. But there are also all those people who are still living there instead of, you know, prison somewhere. And there are so many people coming for the business, some growers say it’s like farming anywhere and anything else in America now—nearly impossible to make a fair living.

Still it is a beautiful city up in the mountains—mile high in every sense—and they won’t throw you in jail for something you decide to do with your own body.

Portland, Oregon

“Portland is a great place to experience the emerging cannabis scene,” Chad Dean, a writer who co-founded Splimm, a oot and parenting website, with his wife. “Anyone 21 or older with a valid government ID can purchase up to 1 ounce of flower , five grams of concentrate [hash oil], 16 ounces in solid form [like a candy bar], and 72 ounces in liquid form.”

Dean says it’s best to start by heading down Sandy Blvd on the east side of the Willamette River which takes you through the “green mile,” which he describes as “a stretch of road adorned with a variety of recreational cannabis shops.”

Dean recommends the dispensary Farma to his friends because of the how knowledgeable the budtenders are.

It’s not legal to consume in public at all so, Dean says the best bet is to find an AirBnB, since hotels don’t allow you to smoke on site. 

“Tourists can try The Northwest Cannabis Club, which has an entry fee of $20 for the first visit and $5 for every additional trip. Smoking is permitted outside on the patio and they have some equipment for vaporizing inside. It’s BYOEverything Else, though.”

Barcelona, Spain

People are calling Barcelona the “new Amsterdam,” which is in some ways true, but in many others misleading. It has become the capital of European cannabis cultivation and where all of the bomb seeds and interesting genetic breeding work is going on. So from the cultivator’s perspective, it is the new Amsterdam. From the consumer’s perspective, considerably less so.

That’s because all of the great cannabis clubs are private and work like collectives. Members started pooling their money together to get someone to grow for them so that they could escape the black market. They argued that they were free to do what they wanted with their own bodies and, since Franco died and the country emerged from fascism, they were free to associate however they wishes. “They also say it is a sickness,” says Anna Obredors, a cannabis consultant, “And they can’t outlaw sickness.”

Obredors took me to one of these truly private clubs that I would not have been able to go to by myself. It was beautiful and you wouldn’t have noticed it from the street at all. You put money on an account and then when you order something, no money changes hands. It was like the nicest coffeeshop you could think of, a great place to sit and read and do some work—but it had dozens of varieties of hash and beautiful, often organically grown, buds of every sort.

But even if you don’t know anyone, you’ll be fine. The first time we walked through the Gothic Quarter, someone approached us and asked us if we smoked weed. We followed him around the corner to a small little place behind a big cathedral. We had to pay a 20 Euro membership fee and show our passports. Then a second door opened and we entered a small dark bar with some stools, couches, and a pool table.

The weed wasn’t nearly as good as at the private place and the selection wasn’t stunning. But there were three or four sativas and a few indicas. It wasn’t bad and they provide papers and bongs and whatever you need and you can just order a beer or a soda and sit and chill.

Evidently, these places get shut down pretty regularly for catering to tourists. The address on our membership card was actually for the former incarnation of our club and so when we looked for it again, we couldn’t find it. Only a shut green door. But we knew it wasn’t the same place and we found the church and our spot.

Even after getting much better weed, we still frequented this club—because you didn’t have to buy something new every time. And it was in the Gothic Quarter so if we were on our way to the Picasso Museum or Gaudi’s Casa Batllo we could stop in, have a toke, and then go enjoy ourselves. 

It’s a spectacular city even without weed, but if you’re a head, the beautiful architecture and ancient streets, the sea and sky, the voluble and outgoing people, and the exceptional tapas and drinks are all enhanced by the weed–a stoner’s dream.

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