Finley: Colorado pot shop visit shows what's ahead for Michigan

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
"Even in Colorado, which pioneered the legal use and sale of recreational pot, marijuana commerce plays out between the legitimate and the shady."

Manitou Springs, Colorado — I'm here in the Emerald Fields store shopping for marijuana products for the first time legally. So why am I still looking over my shoulder for the cops to bust through the door?

Because even in Colorado, which pioneered the legal use and sale of recreational pot, marijuana commerce plays out in a netherworld between the legitimate and the shady.

Those who expect buying pot in Michigan will be as breezy as picking up a bottle of booze at the party store when the first recreational outlets open next year should know it's not going to be like that.

For starters, while medical marijuana dispensaries are plentiful, finding a recreational pot shop is tougher. We had to leave Colorado Springs, where recreational sales are banned, and drive to Manitou, a festive suburb that appears to be undergoing a weed-fueled renaissance.

Already in Michigan, local communities are opting out of pot sales. If the state's experience with medical marijuana is a guide, the stores will be heavily concentrated in urban areas like Detroit. 

Entering Emerald Fields is a two-stage process. First, we have to stop in a vestibule and cough up our driver's licenses and receive a detailed recitation of the rules.

We had one shot at making our purchases: If we left the store, we'd have to wait until the next day to return.

Our limit was 1 ounce of actual marijuana, or 800 milligrams of THC in edibles, or 8 grams of concentrate, or any mix and match up to that total. Walking out of the store with more than the legal limit would subject us to charges ranging from misdemeanor to felony.

While waiting for our licenses to be registered, we were led to a second room, whose main feature was an ATM machine. All sales are in cash. Credit cards and checks aren't accepted because marijuana is still classified as an illegal drug by the federal government, which controls the banking system. So marijuana is a cash-only industry.

While that's a mere inconvenience for consumers, for growers, distributors and retailers it makes financial transactions a nightmare. Suppliers must be paid in cash, making ordering goods for delivery nearly impossible. And it increases the risk of robbery.

Once our driver's licenses were returned, we were asked to show them again to the door keeper before being admitted to the showroom. There, a wide variety of pot products were on display, from buds to oils to candy.

My interest was in lightly THC-infused CBD oil. I recently began using non-narcotic hemp oil and consider it a miracle substance for a variety of ailments. I figured oil with a bit more starch might be even better. 

But I was on my own to figure out which of the various oils on the shelves would serve me best. The sales staff was well versed in the science of getting high from the array of buds and edibles, but was forbidden by law from offering anything that could be construed as medical advice.

I picked an oil with a serious-looking label and added a pain stick salve for my bum knee. 

To check out, I had to produce my license yet again. That's when we were warned against taking our purchases home in our luggage (airports are under federal jurisdiction.)

This is no way to treat a "legal" product. 

Marijuana for recreational use should be sold the same way as liquor: In licensed, multi-purpose outlets widely dispersed throughout the community. Put it on the shelf next to the Jim Beam. Don't make consumers go to a head shop with all the psychedelic trimmings to buy marijuana. Bring the retailing completely out of the shadows. 

Medical marijuana should be dispensed like all other medicine, through a pharmacy. Again, don't make patients travel to questionable neighborhoods to buy what they need from poorly informed store clerks. Rather than issuing a blanket marijuana card, doctors should write prescriptions for specific THC products, with recommended dosages and instructions for use. 

And we should be able to use a darn credit card. And take our medicinal pot products with us when we travel, just as we do blood pressure pills.

This half-way approach to legalization is confusing, insulting and potentially hazardous. Either truly make marijuana legal, or keep it criminal.

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.