Green across the border

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By Bob Hagen

The Greener Side is in a pre-fab metal building that looks something like a failed truckers’ pornstop, just off the interstate outside Pueblo, Colo. There’s no billboard and only the adjacent greenhouse, surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with strands of barbed wire, tips off the astute shopper that this is the first legal retailer of “recreational” marijuana north of Uruguay.
Half the cars in the parking lot are from out of state, mostly from Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. A security guard swipes my New Mexico license through a card reader, confirming that I’m legally eligible to buy up to one-quarter ounce of marijuana for my personal use, and I join the line of customers inside.
With its cheap paneling and hard plastic chairs, the tiny anteroom resembles a cut-rate dentist’s waiting room, but the atmosphere is much more cheerful. For about half the customers this is a first-time experience, and everybody is studying the menu on the wall and discussing the pros and cons of the various strains on offer.
Ted and Marge (names changed to protect two nice people who are about to smuggle a half-ounce of marijuana across three state lines) are youngish retirees winding up a two-week road trip from Minnesota. Marge always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, Ted explains, and they were both tired of the cold and snow, “so we just took off.”
Now they’re stopping on their way home for one last adventure. Even medical marijuana is illegal back in Minnesota, Ted says. Her aunt had cancer, and her sons had to go out and buy it on the street, Marge confides. “It helped her a lot with the chemo.”
In Colorado pot sells legally for $130 to $140 a quarter-ounce, including about $20 in state and local tax (there’s no federal tax, since Prez Choom and his posse in Washington, like Japanese soldiers isolated on some Pacific Island after World War II, are still stubbornly waging the War On Drugs). The clerk weighs your purchase and drops it in a little white paper bag.
As I drove away I did some rough math in my head. If each of those little bags represents $20 in taxes, and this place is serving 20 to 30 customers an hour on a weekday afternoon, that’s conservatively $20,000 in tax revenue every week, or about $1 million a year — half of it out of the pockets of non-residents.
Plus the jobs: the security guard and sales clerks, accountant and general manager, the people tending plants out in the greenhouse. The economic impact ripples out through the local motels and restaurants as well.
Why is New Mexico not in this business?
Are we afraid Ted and Marge are going to get crazy on “reefer” and go on a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style rampage across Kansas? More likely they’re going to check into a local “pot-friendly” motel, get high and try to recapture their lost youth with some wild middle-aged sex. Then they’ll fall asleep watching cable TV. Is that such a bad thing?
If you think legalization will make it easier for kids to buy dope, you don’t have enough teenagers in your life. If they’re honest with you, they’ll tell you illegal pot is easier to come by than legal but highly regulated beer or tobacco in New Mexico.
Are we so committed to this failed 40-year crusade that we’re willing to soldier on, even when our neighbors are conceding defeat — and making a buck in the process?
Here’s my suggestion to the Economic Development and Tourism Department: Make New Mexico’s new motto, “We have a Spaceport! Let’s Get High!”