Steve Chapman
DENVER -- It's 8:30 in the morning, I've just left a recreational marijuana dispensary, and I'm desperate for my regular fix. Luckily, the waiter is quick to deliver it: Coffee. Black. No sugar.

Weed? Never had any interest. I managed to get through four years of college in the 1970s without once trying it, and I'm a little old to start going to Phish concerts.

In the meantime, columnist Maureen Dowd of The New York Times recently showed the dangers awaiting middle-aged scribes who sample the local specialties. She had a scary paranoid reaction after scarfing a cannabis-infused candy bar in her Denver hotel room.

I get my paranoia naturally, from the National Security Agency. So even though it's been perfectly legal to buy and consume cannabis here in Colorado since January 1, I'll stick to caffeine today.

I traveled to Colorado to indulge a more expensive and pointless escape than drugs (fishing), but as a journalist I feel some obligation to investigate important developments wherever they occur. After an old friend and I arrived in Estes Park one afternoon, we looked for a dispensary on our stroll down the main street.

Seeing none, I asked our dinner waitress, who said she didn't expect the town to ever get one. Why not? "Estes Park is pretty conservative."

The next evening, in the funky college town of Fort Collins, I figured my chances were better. But when I asked a young man on the street for directions to the nearest outlet, he regretfully informed me, "There aren't any yet. Denver is the closest place you could find one."

Fort Collins, it seems, is in thrall to another mind-altering substance. It produces 70 percent of the state's beer.

Not that pot is unavailable even back in Estes Park. After recounting my Fort Collins experience to friends over dinner a couple of nights later, I was stopped at the salad bar by a bearded guy with a resemblance to Johnny Manziel. "I couldn't help overhearing your conversation," he said softly, "and I just wanted to let you know I can provide whatever you need." Come to think of it, maybe it (SET ITAL) was (END ITAL) Johnny Manziel.

But for a legal source, I had to go to Denver, which has dispensaries that open at 8 a.m. on Sundays, early enough to let us visit without missing our flights home. In Chicago, they don't let liquor stores open that early.

Once in the door, we got a warm greeting and a request for ID to confirm that I am at least 21 years old. "Come on in," said the smiling employees. "Take all the pictures you want." Really? People have been asked to leave Wal-Mart for doing that.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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