By ERIN MATTHEWS
By ERIN MATTHEWS
Special to the Telegram
SALINA (MCT) — Marijuana remains just as illegal as ever in Saline County, but a former local candidate for sheriff is planning to start a business taking Salinans to a place where the same rules no longer apply.
Bart Allen hopes to start this weekend offering people seats on a 12-passenger Mercedes van that will make overnight trips from Salina to Denver on Saturdays.
According to media accounts, 24 Denver marijuana dispensaries were licensed, inspected and fully permitted for recreational sales on Jan. 1, and shop owners reported more than $1 million in sales that first day alone. By the end of the month, 50 or 60 dispensaries are expected to be open for "adult use," Allen said.
People descended upon Denver from across the country to buy legal recreational marijuana on Jan. 1. Lines were long at dispensaries, and the high demand caused prices to spike.
"By next weekend, hopefully some of the initial fever will have worn out a little bit," he said.
Target customers for Allen's new shuttle service, called UberDank Destinations, would be people 45 or older, Allen says, who want to spend a night enjoying Denver and learning about how the growing marijuana industry one state to the west could help them with medical conditions.
The word UberDank is defined on urbandictionary.com as "high-end marijuana that is prepared to perfection."
"I have found that for most of the people I know, when you get sick, the rules change immensely for what you think is right and wrong," Allen said. "You do what you have to do to take care of yourself."
People who are interested in reserving a seat on the van can contact him through the UberDank Destinations Facebook page or through his son's coffee shop, The Coffee Club, 2107 E. Crawford. Riders must be 21 or older.
For individual riders, the price of the trip, including a hotel room, will be $420 — a nod to a holiday established by marijuana users for smoking pot on April 20, or 4/20. If the shuttle service takes off, Allen might add more vans, more trips, more stops along the way or more destinations in Colorado.
Allen's primary residence is now in Denver, he says, where he watched with growing fascination as the city geared up for the legalization of recreational marijuana. He continues to make frequent trips to his hometown of Salina and began to think perhaps he could provide a passenger service for other Salina area residents.
He believes marijuana has "a ton of legitimate medicinal uses that people here don't have any knowledge of, so I thought this would be a good way for people to get educated."
Allen describes the trips as an educational opportunity for people to try marijuana products in Colorado to determine whether the drug is helpful to them. Passengers will tour at least one marijuana dispensary and growing site, and have an opportunity to buy a personal-use quantity — as much as a quarter of an ounce — of marijuana.
He added that people who are worried about "looking like a drug freak" if they smoke marijuana can get similar effects from a variety of edible items containing THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, and other cannabinoids. Colorado dispensaries sell cupcakes, suckers, chocolate bars, drinks and THC-infused butter, among other products.
"If you find out you can move one state over and eat a chocolate bar and not have migraines any more, isn't that something you'd want to know?" he asked.
Allen believes the cost of the trip will dissuade recreational users just wanting to make a dope run from reserving a seat.
"This is for people who are successful, but they find themselves at a place in their life that they're more worried about just getting up and feeling good every day," he said. "I can't keep people from riding it for whatever purposes they want to, but our focus is to help people find a way to manage whatever chronic symptoms that they may have."
According to Allen, medical marijuana had been selling in Colorado at a price that came to $100 to $200 an ounce, depending on quality — an amount that would cost about $400 if it were sold illegall Kansas. By the end of the first day of legal recreational sales, marijuana was selling in Denver for a price that came to about $560 an ounce, he said.
In Colorado, medical marijuana is available only to people with a medical marijuana card and is taxed at a rate of 7 percent, Allen said. Kansans who purchase marijuana will have to pay a 25 percent recreational tax rate.
The state of Colorado expects tax revenues of $50 million to $60 million in its first year of legal recreational marijuana sales, he said. Boulder, Colo., which is expected to become the "new Amsterdam of the world," might charge an additional 10 percent in taxes, he added.
In Kansas, Allen said, marijuana is still considered a dangerous drug, but in Colorado, people have "overcome years of brainwashing by the government and big business interests" on the subject. Colorado is well on its way to becoming a worldwide "herbal tourism" destination, with marijuana-focused tour services already operating out of southeast Asia and Europe, he said, and he hopes to bring in interested Kansans.
"We're either being progressive or subversive," he said.
Allen, who has a college degree in economics, said that he has found it fascinating to watch the market evolve, as rules are made for what could be a multibillion-dollar industry developing in Colorado.
Many details of how marijuana will fit into society in Colorado remain to be determined, such as where it can be smoked legally, Allen said. Limousine services are charging about $100 an hour to drive people around to view the mountains as they smoke, because otherwise there are few legal options for marijuana smokers, he said.
"It's going to end up being like Napa Valley where you'll be able to go through and see the big growers and see the operations from behind glass," he said. "There will be plants at different phases of growth, harvesting, final curing and all the packaging. It just boggles my mind. All I see is money. These guys have millions invested in this stuff."
He believes people in Colorado generally don't care whether a person uses marijuana, with the exception of a group of counties in eastern Colorado. "It's almost like a different country from here," he said. "I go there and I spend time, and I'm a little confused because people are so different in their thinking. It's a pretty progressive state, relatively speaking."
He believes people who at some point in their lives have secretively smoked or grown pot will be amazed to see the huge grow operations that are now legal in Colorado.
"A lot of people, especially our age, walk through and just look around and think, 'I can't believe what is going on here. Are you sure nobody cares, man?' " he said.