It’s the precise kind of summer day Telluride specializes in: emerald mountains rising from every cloudless angle, radiant town folk ambling atop cruisers, designer dogs panting outside bistros, and career waitresses deftly channeling wads of cash from tourist pockets.
I’m here for two reasons: to report on the burgeoning business of marijuana edibles, and to find a pair of sunglasses in the famed Telluride Free Box.
I split off from my husband, Dan, and our two kids. They set off for the gondola, eager to be whisked through the bluest sky. I scan the downtown for a place to buy pot.
The search is quick and fruitful. I squeeze past a lounging poodle and into the inner chamber of a purveyor of retail marijuana. The shelves are stocked with every consumable form of cannabis imaginable, plus a goodly amount of devices to deliver said substance to brain cells. (Many likely unrecognizable to the flower children of the 60s’. Vaporizer pen?). Whoever is in charge of ad copy is having a field day. One can purchase Strawberry Cough, Sharkberry Cream, and Purple Widow Berry, which boasts “flavors bouncing from sour berries to pine that dance joyfully across the palate.” The sales clerks are knowledgeable and speak unabashedly of “being high,” and “weed,” adopting no soft-edged PR terms for the tentative masses.
An amply-pierced young woman assists a mother/daughter pair from Tennessee, who look like they came straight from the cross-stitch convention. “This is a sit on the couch and watch a movie high,” she advises. “Still psychoactive, but very relaxing. You wanna do an eighth of that?” Meanwhile, the other sales clerk, a ponytailed young man, pipes in professionally, “It’s very stoney.” The Tennessee mother wonders, reasonably, if she and her daughter can smoke an eighth of an ounce before flying home Tuesday.
It’s my turn, and Ponytail Guy shows me their edibles: sour gummies, caramels, hard candies, drops, tarts, cookies, brownies, candy bars, neon-colored drinks, and in a nod to the old country, baklava. My inner child is salivating over the candy. My inner teenager is swooning over the jars of sticky, plump buds. And the middle-aged mother who currently operates this body is duly nervous.
The edibles contain between 10-100 mg THC (the main psychoactive component in marijuana) per package, legally mandated to be metered out into increments of 10 mg. 10 mg is a “tourist dose,” while regular users can handle 20 mg, though some ingest 75 mg or more at a time. I am told that a high from edibles can last 4-8 hours, 2-4 times longer than a smoking high. This is likely because, in smoking, one loses 80% of the THC, and in eating, only 20%.
As I consider my options, customers stream in and out. There appears no predictable clientele. I’m told, “We get college geniuses, 80-year-old ladies from New York City in fur coats, and businessmen who haven’t smoked in 40 years.” The “budtenders” spend much time educating customers on where they can legally partake (in private residences, but not in cars); how to be safe (start small, drink plenty of water, don’t mix with alcohol); and where one can be legally stoned (so far, anywhere, except while driving).
There are two main types of marijuana: indica and sativa. Sativa is an energetic, “clean your house” high, cerebral and creative. Indica is a relaxing, “couch-locked high” freeing the body from insomnia, pain and anxiety. I puzzle over these choices, and consider mentioning my Jewish ancestry and our tendency to think ourselves into a mental pretzel (with overlarge amounts of unhelpful superstition). But I’m already holding up the steadily increasing line. I purchase the caramels (indica/sativa hybrid; $24; in childproof container) and am advised to wait 1-3 hours for the effects to manifest. “You can always eat more, never less,” Ponytail says with a pointed smile.
I take the tourist dose (taste: sweet with grassy notes), and meet up with the family.
The Telluride Free Box provides. Dan digs up a pair of blue and yellow plastic-framed sunglasses, bug-eyed behemoths that eclipse half my face. It’s not farfetched to think Burt Reynolds left them on the slopes, circa 1973. I put them on, and point at the kids lounge singer-style, issuing a throaty “hey-y-y-y little lady.” They fall apart laughing and suddenly I’m feeling light and giddy and like all the moisture’s been squeegeed out of my mouth and eyes. I am grateful for the sunglasses, whose appearance, like the looming mountains and squeaky clean air, feels somehow cosmic – or maybe that’s the caramel.
The use of mind-altering substances dates precisely as far back as our historical record. Natural psychedelic compounds are found in cacti, mushrooms, ant venom, toad skin, the Hawaiian woodrose, various morning glories and lilies, and more. Most ancient cultures had their corresponding mind-altering substance, used ritualistically to transcend ordinary life, to deepen spiritual experience. So, this is what we humans do, I tell myself.
Next, I notice two things while cruising toward the Telluride airport on request of my aircraft-enthusiast son. First, I am immensely glad Dan is driving. The edibles have kicked in strong and my mind has regressed, not unpleasantly, to a child’s. I am capable of doing one singular thing at a time (preferably plucked from the menu: Fun) and am fairly certain driving requires coordination of multiple faculties. Second, in our four-person family, there are never less than two conversations occurring simultaneously. Does this bug me under normal circumstances? Certainly. Right now it seems simply funny: my son and daughter lobbing incessant thoughts and observations our way, Dan attempting to field them, while I float somewhere slightly, amusedly, removed. I turn my cell phone off (the thought of operating my end of a phone call is ludicrous), and then turn it immediately back on, in case of emergency, proving that despite the fact of my insides cranking out buzzy hijinks, mom-judgment still reigns.
We watch a tiny airplane hurl itself into the sky, appearing at the last possible breathtaking second to haul itself over, rather than into, a snowy range of pointy rock. Col is explaining the principles of lift and drag (surprisingly fascinating!) when Dan spots a roadkill elk. (Our family has never passed up an opportunity for wild meat, highways notwithstanding. See Edible issue #4, Spring, 2011). Dan and Rose investigate, returning with reports. Dan: “Man, that is really fresh.” Rose, cheerfully: “Its eye is all bulgy!”
The kids and I pin down the animal’s legs while Dan plunges in with a pocketknife, creating quick egress for the two prized, steak-quality backstraps. Every moment feels ripe with poignancy and significance. Dan, straddling and sawing the animal so athletically he’s sweating; Col, lifting a flap of hide for his father’s access, face registering nothing much more than “here’s tonight’s dinner;” fertile mountains, towering every which way. I feel instantly sentimental, hungry, and oddly nostalgic for the current moment, wanting to cinch us here together for some protected impossible eternity.
Next, there are decisions to make (Should we eat now or later? Stop at the hot springs or head back to our campsite?), and a grand, benevolent and rare neutrality washes over me. I find myself unexpectedly low on preferences, able to hold many opposing positions in my expanding mind, a relief so palpable I inflate with lightness. However, there are brain departments currently off limits: planning, self-scrutiny, future work obligations. Also, when anything emotionally painful drifts in, a black curtain drops across my mind.
The economic market for recreational marijuana appears to have an ever-rising ceiling. The state of Colorado has already raised over 35 million dollars this year through marijuana taxes and fees (from both medical and recreational). Legalized marijuana brings new meaning to the term “local economy.” All Colorado-purchased marijuana must be grown, formed into edibles, and tested for potency in Colorado. Supply is surging to meet demand, including the invention of new businesses: marijuana tours will bring customers safely from shops to slopes; marijuana delivery will bring pot to your door (paired with a pizza?). Not to mention an entirely new department of Colorado government, the Marijuana Enforcement Division, charged with regulating this new frontier.
We bounce down the narrow forest service road, sun sparkling on the wild green world, my thoughts circling like shiny, fascinating objects I’d like to snag and examine awhile. Ever convinced I’m on the verge of some game-changing revelation, I make an effort to stay tuned. However, my attention is as fickle as a toddler’s. Look, a sunflower! A deer! A ginormous SUV heading right toward us!
The air-conditioned beast approaches us on this ribbon of a road; it’s a game of chicken. Dan yanks our truck to the paltry shoulder. Opposite our truck, a tinted window zooms down and a woman’s pinched face barks, “There’s room behind you.” No one argues with her but she repeats her peevish pronouncement, zips up her window and blasts forward. Behind the SUV, in a low-slung Datsun, windows down, a young man gives us a hearty and sincere, “Thanks for pulling over.” And it seems immediately evident who the more likely pot-smokers are.
Back at camp, hour five, I’m becoming tired of the poignancy, the hilarity, the snack attacks, the intensity of everything. (I can taste in a single bite of brownie: sugar, chocolate, eggs, and vanilla in discrete, spellbinding layers).
My one-pointedness makes me well-suited to detangle twenty feet of Rose’s fishing line from grabby willows, but having every thought and action echo with significance is getting confusing. Is that honeybee the holy patron saint of pollinators, or just another insect looking for calories?
By hour six, my eyes start making tears again and I can imagine performing as ambitious a task as cooking dinner. I still feel relaxed and like my mind has been cranked open, but the world has returned to its own face value. A camp-side bush of blooming yellow cinquefoil is lovely, but I don’t feel as if I need to lie prostrate under it for eternity.
We grill a section of elk backstrap over hot coals while the sun slips behind a ridge, dimming this river valley. Eight hours later, a certain mundaneness returns. In a surprising plug for reality, I’m sincerely relieved. It’s hard to imagine committing another full day to such mental shenanigans. Who has time for that? It appears I have four and a half caramels to distribute among adventurous friends, but the sunglasses I’m keeping.