DENVER (Reuters) - Droves of pot tourists have flocked to Denver to sample its legal marijuana since Colorado became the first state in the country to allow recreational weed sales to adults. If you're thinking of joining the visitors heading to the "Mile High" city this year, here are a few things to keep in mind:
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
For a start, you must be aged 21 or older and be carrying a valid, government-issued photocard identification to prove it.
Residents with a Colorado state ID can buy up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana at a time, but as an out-of-state visitor you will be restricted to purchases of a quarter-ounce.
Take note that if you're not a U.S. citizen, some pot shops which previously accepted driving licenses to admit foreigners now instead require a full passport to show a customer's legal presence in the United States.
Some of the more organized stores will ask you to sign a document saying you agree to abide by Colorado's marijuana laws, including not providing the drug to minors nor transporting it across state borders. Police set up amnesty bins at Denver International Airport for anyone who forgets and try to carry their holiday weed home with them.
And remember to keep your ID handy. Wary of state inspections meant to trap vendors hawking weed to minors (none have yet been caught) many stores will want to check it more than once.
WHAT CAN I BUY?
The Denver area has about 200 marijuana stores, and in all of them visitors will be welcomed by the pungent aroma of green buds. They tend to cost about $20 to $30 per gram, and come in a huge variety of sativa, indica and hybrid strains with names like "Blue Dream," "Sour Diesel," and "Silverback Kush."
For the uninitiated, or simply lazy, most stores sell perfectly coned, ready-rolled individual joints too.
Most shops also offer a wide range marijuana-infused edibles such as chocolates and candies. Take care: many novices and veterans alike have regretted eating too much in one go.
The best advice for visitors, echoed in a recent campaign here by pot activists urging responsible consumption, is to "start low and go slow" where edibles are concerned.
Experts recommend you take no more than 5-to-10 mg - a minute quantity - "total active THC" (tetrahydrocannabinol, the mind-altering component found in pot, for your first dose. Then wait an hour to 90 minutes before deciding whether to take more. The effects can come on slowly.
Most stores also sell marijuana concentrates such as butane hash oil, and the various bits of kit such as vaporizer, or "vape," pens used to consume them. Novice visitors should limit themselves to a puff or two, and see how it goes.
WHERE CAN I CONSUME?
Public marijuana consumption is prohibited by Colorado state law. Denver police have been handing out more tickets this year for public use, so street corners, park benches, or the parking lot of your hotel are hardly safe bets.
First-time offenders face a $150 fine.
No marijuana retail stores feature the kind of smoking lounges you sometimes find in cigar shops, because of strict rules that ban pot consumption in licensed retail outlets.
Therefore, outside of private homes where the owner consents, the options for marijuana tourists are limited.
The well-known Red Rocks concert venue reminds audiences that pot use is not allowed, encourages patrons who are bothered by marijuana smoke to tell security and even provides them with a text hotline to complain anonymously.
Vape pens are only allowed in the (cigarette) smoking areas.
Other Denver entertainment venues have similar prohibitions on pot use: signs in the Bluebird Theater on Colfax Avenue remind those attending gigs that smoking anything is banned.
WHAT TO DO?
Get some local knowledge and do some research.
The Cannabist (www.thecannabist.co), a blog run by the Denver Post newspaper, has a wealth of details and a map of the city's many marijuana establishments. Opening hours and contact numbers are all included.
It also features information on events and includes a host of Q&As on pot topics that are useful for residents and visitors alike. Other online resources to consider are Leafly (www.leafly.com) and Weedmaps (www.weedmaps.com).
For information on live music and other arts and cultural events, check out the Westword newspaper (www.westword.com).
You could also try visiting one of several private marijuana clubs, which operate in something of a legal gray area.
Club Ned (www.clubnedcafe.com) in nearby Nederland, for example, bills itself as America's first legal cannabis cafe.
It is an adults-only, members-only club that charges $14.20 to become a member for a month. Alcohol is banned, as the owners say they want to "promote and protect a peaceful atmosphere."
You have to bring your own marijuana, but pipes are provided, and of course lots of munchies to eat.
PRIVATE TOUR COMPANIES
For a more structured visit, you could consider signing up with one of the many companies now offering marijuana-themed tours. There's a wide range to fit most budgets.
So Mile High (www.somilehigh.com) offers tours of "the best marijuana dispensaries with the widest selection," a private guided tour of a grow operation by a master grower, lunch, and even a one-hour painting-while-smoking class with an artist.
My 420 Tours (www.my420tours.com) offers all-inclusive vacation packages, cannabis cooking courses, and can also advise on hotels which allow vaporizer use in rooms, and/or have private smoking terraces for guests to enjoy their purchases.
Some tour companies use private buses or limos, which are not covered by the state's smoking bans, meaning participants can imbibe in the vehicle between stops.
Other companies take tourists to recreational weed stores alongside a more conventional city sightseeing itinerary.
Just remember, Coloradans are welcoming people, and you'll find lots of Western warmth here on your visit to Denver. But don't break the rules: don't light up on the 16th Street shopping mall or in your chain hotel room. And if you're taking edibles, especially for the first time, start slow.
Don't be tempted to take any marijuana or related products home with you, and don't drive your hire car while under the influence. Anyone who drives in Colorado expressly gives consent to a roadside blood or breath test if police have probable cause to believe they are impaired, even if only slightly.
(Editing by Michael Roddy, Larry King)