We hadn’t been to Breckenridge since marijuana became legal in Colorado.
Could that be right? According to Wikipedia, the state legalized pot in January 2014, more than five years ago.
So, I guess it was. The last time we went to the mountains was an ill-fated trip to Estes Park, a switch from our usual long summer weekend trip to Breck. It turned out to be a mistake. The “rustic river cabin” rental we’d blindly chosen online wound up being a shack that stood alongside a row of shacks in a converted trailer park. The single room building hadn’t been touched since the early ‘70s and smelled like a natural gas leak. The floors slanted — drop a tennis ball and it would roll across the floor — a carnival fun house without the fun.
And Estes Park had a completely different vibe — a family vibe, with lots of kids running around everywhere a la The Griswald Family Vacation, compared to Breckenridge’s more… let’s face it, sleepy vibe. The perfect Breckenridge vacation consists of going to breakfast, hitting the trails, having lunch in an outdoor cafe, taking a nap during the daily afternoon rainstorm, then heading to dinner. Repeat as necessary.
Five years later, it was time to return to Breckenridge with a new dog in tow. But as we drove through the Nebraska Sandhills on our way, I wondered what impact legalization had on the town.
I knew it hadn’t transformed Breck into a modern-day Grateful Dead-themed amusement park, with hippies hanging out on corners smoking grass from tiny pipes, pushing away love beads from their blue-tinted sunglasses, flashing peace signs and handing out flowers to woke middle-aged tourists nervously excited about getting legally stoned for the first time.
But I did imagine that a lot of the coffee shops and T-shirt stores had been replaced by marijuana dispensaries, each with a groovy drug-theme name: The Stank Shoppe or Potco or Cannabis Bliss or The Pot Spot or (of course) Rocky Mountain High.
True confession time: I’ve never smoked pot in my life, though covering the indie music scene for The Reader all these years, I’ve certainly been around it. There was a time in the ‘90s when it was impossible to interview a band without being trapped in a room with four dudes hitting on a giant glass bong. When the joint or whatever inevitably came my way, I could always acquiesce without looking too uncool, explaining that my “real job” prevented me from imbibing. “Drug tests, bro.”
“Right on,” they’d nod, sleepily, then murmur, “Bummer.”
Still, I’ve always thought weed should be legalized. Adults should be able to put whatever they want in their bodies, as long as they do it without harming anyone else. And I’ve always assumed everyone except me either has — or does — smoke weed.
The problem is when people get lost in it. I’ve known too many musicians and artists who’ve become obsessed with pot to the detriment of everything else — their music, their art, their lives. Whether they would admit it or not, it’s held them back. It doesn’t have to be 4:20 all the time.
After eight hours in the car, we finally rolled into Dillon on our way to Breckenridge. The reservoir, which had been nearly dry five years prior due to a severe drought, was back at a healthy level. And while there were still plenty of dry, dead trees spotting the mountain side — the result of a nasty pine beetle outbreak — the forest seemed healthier than I remembered.
Breckenridge looked exactly the same, except the coffee shops had been replaced with brew pubs and new restaurants (but, sadly, one of our favorites, Rasta Pasta, was long gone).
Not only were there no pot shops, there was no pot to be seen, anywhere. Over our long weekend, all we saw were the usual tourists and townies in their Patagonia gear drinking coffee out of Starbucks-style cups. You’d never know pot was a legal thing.
On our final day in town, we stopped at a gift shop called Mountain Style to buy tchotchkes for my peeps back at the office. Reggae music drifted from speakers hidden beneath racks of hemp tie-dyed t-shirts with slogans like “Herb Patrol” silk screened under a giant marijuana leaf.
The shop was slow that Sunday afternoon, so I asked the long-bearded guy behind the counter with a name tag that said “Bill” where I could find all the “drug stores” I’d expected to see on my return to Breckenridge.
“They’re all on the edge of town,” Bill said. And by “all” he meant two dispensaries, located somewhere on Airport Road near the city limits. Though pot may be legal in the state of Colorado, it’s still very much illegal according to national law.
“The feds could come in here at any time and shut the whole thing down,” Bill said. Because of that, banks aren’t exactly eager to give business loans to pot dealers. “It costs 10 grand for cannabis companies just to apply for a loan,” he said, despite the fact that marijuana taxes, licenses and fees brought in more than a quarter of a billion dollars to Colorado’s coffers last year alone.
OK, I got all that, but where were all the people smoking doobies?
“Man, you can’t even do that in Amsterdam,” Bill scoffed.
There had been a “pot cafe” on Breckenridge’s main drag, but it closed pretty quickly. “People complained about the smell,” he said. “The only legal place you can smoke is in the privacy of your home.”
Bill’s words would prove prophetic.
We made our way back to our condo when the afternoon rains began, this time as a massive thunderstorm. I opened the window to let in the cool breeze, and moments later recognized that old familiar funk. Someone in the condo below us was having a little party to mark the end of the weekend. We had finally found our Breckenridge pot. I smiled and said, “Do you smell that?” as I leaned over and shut the window.
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.