Marijuana provokes mixed opinions in Vail

VAIL ­— On Wednesday, Colorado will make history as the first state to open retail shops that sell marijuana to the public.

While there won’t be any such shops in the Vail Valley right away on Jan. 1, persons over the age of 21 will be able to legally purchase up to an ounce of marijuana at a shop in Denver, transport that product to our area and smoke it freely within the privacy of their own home.

Of course, for most visitors and even local residents, the privacy of home is usually complicated by a lease agreement, many of which will disallow smoking. Hotels in our area don’t permit it, either.

And with no pot smoking allowed in public, or on national lands, that doesn’t leave a lot of options.

“Everything has been pushed to the extreme. If you go into one of these pot shops and ask for some hash to smoke, you’re probably not going to get the old Middle Eastern hashish that’s romanticized in films and novels.”
Sammy Katz
Owner of

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Outside Vail Mountain’s Eagle Bahn Gondola, under a large red sign that reads “Warning: Consumption of marijuana is illegal in public and on national forest system land. You may lose your pass or face criminal charges,” the topic is frequently discussed in the liftlines that form there, often by people unwilling to attach their last name to their opinions.

“I’d buy it if they sold it right here at the bottom of the gondola,” said Jay, a visitor in town for the holidays from Louisiana who declined to give his full name.

Others aren’t so excited about the possibility of marijuana making its way to the mountain.

“I don’t want someone getting high and skiing into me any more than I want someone taking shots of Fireball between runs,” said Will Riley, of New York, also visiting Vail for the holidays. “But as far as people being able to purchase it in shops, I don’t have a problem with it. It should be just like alcohol that way.”


For folks who will purchase themselves some marijuana at a shop in Colorado this year, especially those who may not be aware of the evolution the substance has underwent during the past few decades, they’re entering a brave new world of pot smoking.

Those are the words of Sammy Katz, a Vail resident and business owner whose company,, caters to smokers.

“Everything has been pushed to the extreme,” says Katz. “If you go into one of these pot shops and ask for some hash to smoke, you’re probably not going to get the old Middle Eastern hashish that’s romanticized in films and novels.”

What you’re likely to find, says Katz, is a product called butane hash oil or “BHO,” a type of concentrate where butane gas is used to extract the active ingredient from the plant.

“It’s basically pure THC,” says Katz. “If you’re not used to it, it will knock you on the floor.”

Katz says the proliferation of BHO into the market has created a sort of bubble, as demand for the product has spiked.

“And that’s where companies like mine come in,” Katz said. “People are using a blow torch to smoke this stuff in their homes. My product creates a hot surface like your car lighter inside of a small, pen-shaped device, allowing you to smoke it on the go. So for, the decriminalization of marijuana in Colorado has been a driver of business … we’ve just followed the industry and this is where it’s taken us, push button technology for the pot smoker.”


Just where the industry will go is a source of curiosity for many visitors.

Visiting from Mexico, Vail skier Edwardo Ledesma says the drug issues we’re dealing with here in Colorado don’t amount to problems at all in the real world.

“The violence, the bloodshed in Mexico related to drugs, you can’t even imagine it,” he said. “I think (legalization) could lead to less violence, like we saw in prohibition, but you have to analyze all points … Marijuana is natural, no different than a drink of whiskey, in my mind. But for my son? I don’t want him to ever even taste the stuff.”

New York resident Michael Schwartz says he thinks in most cases marijuana will be less of an issue than alcohol, but regardless, Schwartz is happy to hear local cops are enforcing the laws regarding driving under the influence of marijuana.

“I’m just curious to see how it’s going to turn out here,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll see what happens in Colorado before we start looking at legalizing (it in)New York.”

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