×

Boulder dispensaries cautiously welcome GOP debate

BOULDER, Colo. — As marijuana legalization becomes an increasingly mainstream discussion, pot dispensaries here are eyeing Wednesday's GOP debate for hints of what the future may hold.

Johnny Kurish, general manager at Boulder's Helping Hands Herbals recreational dispensary, said he was surprised when he heard the national Republican field would come to this largely liberal town, but then he said it all started to make sense.

"Part of the political process is facing your opposition," said Kurish, who has an MBA and sports short-cropped hair and a button-down shirt. He said he plans to base his voting decisions on more issues than just marijuana legalization, but that's a key topic.

"It's heavy — working in this industry you realize you've been lied to for years," he said. "To me, (marijuana policy) is a gauge that you're being realistic about the information you have."

Johnny with an employee at the Helping Hand Herbals marijuana dispensary in Boulder, Colorado.
Jarrett Bellini | CNBC
Johnny with an employee at the Helping Hand Herbals marijuana dispensary in Boulder, Colorado.

All of the staff members working at Helping Hands on Tuesday afternoon could list most of the candidates' pot policies — especially calling out former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's admission to having smoked and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for his strong anti-marijuana stand.

Despite the remaining political opposition, dispensary employees interviewed by CNBC were overwhelmingly positive about marijuana's future in the United States.

"Legalizing weed would change everything," said Missy McDougall, an assistant manager at the retailer the Village Green Society. "They'll come around."

Those politicians who haven't publicly embraced legalization drew condemnation from dispensary employees.

"So you guys hate pot more than you like money? For a politician that's just wrong," said Brandon Witte, a budtender at the Village Green Society, listing benefits like reduced traffic fatalities and sizable tax revenues that Colorado has seen from legal marijuana. "Basically you guys have no idea what you're talking about," he said to any politician who opposes legalization.

The benefits of marijuana legalization, he said, could apply to other hot-button political issues like gun violence. "If someone is feeling violent, don't buy a gun, just go smoke some pot and calm down and fall asleep," Witte said.

Read MoreGOP candidates divided on marijuana

Still, no one said they were a single-issue voter when it came to marijuana.

"It won't make or break a candidate," said Adam Swartz, an assistant manager at Native Roots in Boulder. In fact, he said he was looking forward to watching the debate so he can learn more about each GOP contender's positions on various topics.

For now, Swartz sees the appeal of "some of the more outspoken and marketing-driven candidates" in the Republican field. "I love how Trump isn't afraid to speak his mind. You know, he says whatever the f--- he wants, and the president of the United States should be able to do that," Swartz said.

But not every marijuana purveyor in town was obviously politically plugged in. Employees at The Farm recreational dispensary declined to comment, saying they didn't much keep up with the GOP candidates. In fact, a poster on the storefront said the business would be closing early on Wednesday — not for a debate watch party, but for a costume party where attendees would dress as their favorite strain of weed, according to one employee (who suggested that her sign implied she wear a "Space Queen" costume).

Watch CNBC's "Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate" tonight. The debate will feature two sets of candidates discussing critical issues facing America today, including job growth, taxes and the health of our economy. Coverage begins at 5 pm E.T.