Illegal Marijuana in Denver: at What Price? By Federal Highway Administration - MUTCD [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons By Federal Highway Administration - MUTCD [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Richard Farrell

There is a flip side to America that most of us prefer to overlook. By this, I mean a shadowy underworld populated by the flotsam and jetsam of humankind. For near a century otherwise law-abiding marijuana users had to enter it. That world still exists. Right now, it is offering illegal marijuana bargains in Denver despite decriminalization.

The Spokesman-Review may be unknown outside of Washington, but in the state itself the newspaper has the third highest daily readership. It adopts a “moderate to liberal” position and tends to rile some conservative groups. Yesterday it published an article about the murky world of illegal marijuana trading, which is still alive and well in Denver regardless of Colorado’s liberal policies.

The root cause is price differential. Setting aside the costs of operating a retail outlet, the state applies 12.9 percent sales tax to social marijuana, plus an additional 15 percent excise tax. Individual cities may increase the burden at their discretion. Medical marijuana only contributes 2.9 percent sales tax. Hence the draconian hoops patients have to pass through to qualify for a tiny daily dose.

The upshot is that an ounce of pot sells for around $350 – $400 over the counter in Denver, and $200 – $280 on a street corner. Setting aside the thrill of skirting around the law that youngsters of every generation enjoy, this is one hell of a temptation.

It is not an easy situation to assess. There are no records of pre-liberation sales in Colorado, and we have no idea how much is still passing hands illegally. A similar scenario followed prohibition. I am inclined to think the process is in its stormy adolescence and likely to be stormy for a while. However, given that 90 percent of Americans prefer to toe the line and are averse to risk, my money is firmly on the side of legal marijuana prevailing.

The key is going to be the shopping experience. Millions of Americans take their coffee at Starbucks every morning, although I don’t think it tastes much different than any other commercial coffee. The discriminator is the environment in which Starbucks serves it. Add a touch of mystery and glamour and you can sell almost anything.

Smart marijuana money needs to be generous with ambience up front, but thrifty in other ways to recoup expenses. All lager beer is similar, but customers are fiercely loyal. Selling marijuana is also a cult business. You have to be controversial — just like this article — if you want to grab attention and engage.

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