Medical Marijuana is creating a burgeoning new economy in the home of the Rocky Mountain High. Are we experiencing a societal shift or just the latest code word for smoking up?

Metaphor has always been at the heart of marijuana culture. Whether it’s calling the harvested plant “tea,” “weed,” “grass,” “hooch,” “dope,” or “joey,” or the smoking of it “packing,” “lamping,” “lighting up” or “pulling a 420,” being able to speak in code has often been just as important to pot smokers as having the right rolling papers. Now that we have Medical Marijuana, it seems as if even the mainstream will embrace legalizing weed, but only if it’s dubbed with the greatest “let’s get high” code phrase of them all, i.e., a doctor’s note. By placing marijuana in the realm of medicine, it seems that we can now discuss it in terms of commerce and culture without once mentioning how much people really just like to get stoned.

“Chronic neck pain,” is the reason why a buddy of mine’s 68-year-old mother is happily—and legally—puffing away nightly on a particularly stony strain of marijuana known as Grape Ape.

According to him, “This is much harder stuff than anything we used to steal from her drawer in high school.” He says that mom is happier, the pain is diminished, and that when he comes over to visit there’s a lot more food around the house. For “medicinalists,” buying your next bud can now be as pleasantly confusing as trying to decide if you want a bag of coffee from Kenya, Guatemala or Colombia the next time you visit Starbucks.

Which has been a surefire sales-starter according to the Denver Post. In March, the paper reported that Denver officials received 259 applications for Medical Marijuana Dispensary licenses and that there are more than 400 dispensaries operating in the state.

For a property market still feeling its way through a post-recession economy, that’s nearly 300 new storefronts. Along with the corresponding growth in jobs, taxes, grow operations and head shops, marijuana is rapidly becoming Colorado’s third greatest business boom—a 21st century Green Rush just behind the 19th century gold rush and the 20th century real estate rush.

So much so that Dan, a commercial real estate broker whom I met over beers, told me “right now medical marijuana accounts for at least one-third of my business.” Dealing mostly with leases for new grow operations being custom-built to feed weed into those booming dispensaries, Dan said although he has encountered a couple “grassroots” operations, most of his clients have been constructing state-of-the-art, high-yield, low-input operations.

“My experience with these kinds of clients so far is that you never have to worry about them being on time with the check,” Dan said.

Which was really always the most pervasive argument in favor of medicinal marijuana anyway—that while the revenues from weed would increase dramatically following the passage of a medicinal option, the number of smokers wouldn’t.

So far, it would appear that the city underestimated the economic element. Because alongside the dispensary growth, there has been an equal boom in the sales of property, liability, theft, and crop insurance, as well as the sales and installation of security systems and of ventilation equipment and grow lights.

There’s also talk of more established dispensaries from California—“dope franchises”—moving into the Mile High city and quickly undercutting the growing mom-and-pop weed shops. Free market realities are now part of America’s biggest black market going legit.

Don’t be surprised if competing dispensaries start offering frequent smoker discounts.

As for the real difference between potheads and patients, take a look at ganjagrocer.com, a dispensary resource page for California, and it’s obvious that will remain the one fine line of legalization we can continually expect to cross. Apparently compassionate caregivers with dispensaries named California Patients Alliance and Healing Touch will continue to operate right alongside dispensaries catering to a perhaps a more cigar aficionado styled connoisseur of THC, thus sporting names like Hollyweed and Dr. Purple Skunk Budd.

All of which means that the reality of being ‘Rocky Mountain High’ will remain somewhere in the middle of old world cure-all and new world party sport. •

High on Punt Returns

So just what does this have to do with the Broncos and Elwayville? Only that Denver punt return legend Rick Upchurch did once find his name and marijuana together in the news in a story reported nationally from the L.A. Times to the New York Post. Named one of football’s 300 greatest players, Upchurch was fast, fearless, and unforgettable, and the first name on the list when Denver named its 22 best players ever during a ceremony last season at Invesco Field.

After a reported stint in rehab for smoking weed in the 1980s, Upchurch was quoted upon his return to the game as saying he might still smoke at home. He claimed he was misquoted, which the Broncos organization reportedly backed up with a clean drug test. Much more interesting is the fact that in the 1970s Upchurch dated and was briefly engaged to future Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

And much more mystifying is the fact that he hasn’t been inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame yet. Anybody who thinks that 10,000+ receiving yards, 35 touchdowns – 8 of them on punt returns – and 5 all-pro selections on a mediocre team doesn’t earn him that honor is smoking too much you know what.

Peter Kray is an East High School graduate who married a Cherry Creek girl. He keeps a framed copy of John Elway’s Broncos rookie card next to his wedding photo. You can read more of his writing, including excerpts of his upcoming novel, The God of Skiing, at shredwhiteandblue.com.

IN THE COMMENTS: Do you have a medical marijuana card? Let us know how legalization has eased your pain