- Billy Mines
- The mother of allpot party buses.
Imagine a group of stoners from across the country, including this bearded veteran, enjoying our rolling cave of vice when about fifteen young, upper-middle-class (judging by their wardrobe) white women ambled aboard for the afternoon “Bud Crawl.” Only two of them smoked, and none of them spoke — not even to each other.
They huddled nervously, silently together, like a family of raccoons caught helplessly at the bottom of an empty Dumpster. They filled the entire wrap-around seat in the rear half of the bus with not an inch of visible leather between any two of them — knees and shoulders sealed tighter than Spartan shields in a phalanx fighting formation, determined to Hold the Line.
Occasionally, one of them would fire a quick, timid glance toward the rest of us ripping dabs in the front of the bus, and then quickly avert her eyes again. They probably had no idea what a dab even was; in their minds, we might as well have been smoking meth or shooting smack.
Let that be a lesson to posterity: If you’re trying to introduce friends to weed who are still on the fence about it — who still know it as one of those evil “drugs” Nancy Reagan told them to “Just Say No” to — you might want to find a more gradual way to do it than buying them a Loopr ticket — it could be it bit overwhelming.
I ended up on Loopr after my editor told me to explore Denver’s burgeoning canna-tour scene. I began by firing off emails to, and leaving voicemails for, every company I saw listed. I simply asked for a comped seat so that we’d have access for reporting.
In the end, two companies stood out among their competitors — Loopr and High End Transportation.
My Loopr adventure began with a snafu that nearly caused me to miss the bus. I was supposed to get on board at Northern Lights dispensary (where the Pizza & Pot tour would begin), but the address the guys at Loopr sent me didn’t include a city or zip code. When I tapped the link on my iPhone, it pulled up 2045 Sheridan Blvd. in Denver, and I assumed it was correct.
I ended up in the parking lot of some type of Bargain Mart-style store, but right next to it was a place called the Mad Hatter’s Mile High Kava Bar — a funky, psychedelic-themed coffee and tea bar that seemed like it might as well be a good place for the start of a Denver weed tour. Nevertheless, the lone bartender inside looked obviously confused when I mentioned a “weed bus,” and I knew I was in the wrong place.
I went back to my car and, instead of trusting the address in the email, I punched “Northern Lights” into the search bar on my iPhone’s Maps app: Long story short, I was in Denver. I was supposed to be in Edgewater.
I arrived at Northern Lights too late to check out the dispensary. I whipped my car into the lot around the side of the building, yanked the parking brake into place, and dashed to the front door of Northern Lights. I coughed out a half-coherent sentence about a “weed bus” to the guy inside checking IDs, and he told me to run down to the opposite end of the strip mall that included the dispensary, a few restaurants, a chiropractor’s office and a payday lender — the parking area in front isn’t big enough for Loopr’s bus to park without completely disrupting the flow of traffic.
As I sprinted through the parking lot, I pulled up the texts between Loopr Co-founder and Chief of Operations Hal Taback and me and tried to call him to make sure the bus didn’t leave without me. The phone was still ringing when I found the bus and Taback, a tall, athletic gentleman in a ball cap and T-shirt, standing outside holding his cell phone to his ear.
“Hal!” I hollered both through the phone and at his back.
- Billy Mines
- Packing a big party into a small space.
Loopr has only one vehicle, but it’s all they need. This beast is the mother of all pot party buses — wide center aisles with plenty of leg room, five restaurant-style booths with tables up front, the aforementioned long wrap-around seat in back, and three gorgeous glass dab rigs with electronically heated nails (e-nails) hot and ready for any of the guests to use. It’s a space that’s equally conducive to socializing with strangers as it is accommodating to private parties, assuming your party tops out at a dozen people or so. It’s everything a seasoned stoner would hope a Colorado hash bar would be (aside from selling cannabis to guests on-site), only shrunk down to fit inside a street-legal vehicle.
When they launched in 2016, Loopr began with just one route — what they now call their Hop On-Hop Off tour in downtown Denver, encompassing most of the 16th Street Mall and looping around Coors Field. They run that route every Friday and Saturday night from 7 to 11 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 7 p.m. Now they’ve expanded to add a dinner and a movie night route on Thursday night and a tour of Denver dispensary Seed & Smith’s grow operation.
But Saturday is by far Loopr’s most action-packed day: It begins with their Pizza & Pot Tour at 12:30 p.m., followed by the Bud & Beer Crawl Tours in the afternoon, and wraps up the evening with the downtown loop. It seemed that would be the best day to ride to get the full Loopr experience, and Taback was generous enough to allow me to cruise all three events as an embedded stoner.
Taback moved to Colorado from New York in 2015 to investigate whether opening a cannabis lounge would be a financially feasible opportunity. He quickly determined the financial and legal risks of opening a brick-and-mortar lounge were too great and decided to go mobile. The Loopr bus first hit the road on April 20, 2016, complete with a mobile app that allows the user to purchase tickets and see where the bus is in real time on a map.
Despite the apparent crackdown on marijuana tour buses — Loopr received a warning letter from the city and county of Denver in June — Taback believes he is untouchable from a legal standpoint.
“Because this isn’t a building, they can’t regulate it the same way,” Taback claims. “If it were a brick-and-mortar location, they could approach the person leasing it to me and tell them to make us stop lounging there, or if I owned the place, they could take it away from me because I’d be breaking a lot of rules — but with a bus, we aren’t.”
“They wish I were breaking rules,” he adds with a chuckle. “They probably never expected the law to be taken advantage of in this way, but it’s too late now — the cat’s out the bag.”
“And it’s something that is needed, too,” he continues. “A lot of people come to Colorado to enjoy weed, but there’s no place they can legally smoke, so they have to come here. You can buy an eighth of weed and a $35 ticket to my bus, and it still costs less than an eighth of weed in New York City.” All the Loopr passengers I met that day, every one of them from out of state, agreed: The price is an absolute steal.
Once he can afford it, Taback hopes to add another bus that will run 35 minutes behind the first one. Right now, if you decide to hop off at any of the stops, and don’t get back on before the bus departs, you’ll have to wait two hours for the bus to come all the way back around. Taback says he also aspires to open a Loopr ferry boat in New York City that will run between Manhattan and Queens once his home state (hopefully) legalizes recreational cannabis.
The joint was gone now, and our conversation trailed off onto something about riding bikes through the woods as kids, to Stranger Things, to Netflix and other frivolous things. Then it was time for Taback to leave and the bus to depart.
I chatted with Mia about how she found her way to Colorado from Florida while we watched Billy demonstrate the rosin press for a group of young men — two from Chicago and one from Australia — in the booth behind me. The $600 device takes about 10 minutes to press about a gram of ground cannabis flower into a dab-able wax right before your very eyes. I think it was the Chicagoans’ weed he pressed, and they offered me a dab when it was done.
I was so high by the time I got to Brooklyn’s Finest, the first stop on the Pizza & Pot tour, I got caught up in conversation with another passenger named David from Alameda, California, and forgot to order food. And when the bus was about to leave, I nearly brought my beer back on board with me, but a waiter hollering in a Brooklyn accent chased me down and caught me about five yards short of the bus door.
At the next pizza place, Sexy Pizza, I remembered to eat, but forgot my debit card.
That sort of set the tone for the day, from which I now have three pages of half-baked notes — incomplete names, phone numbers and other random inscriptions. I could only hold a thought long enough to pull out the notepad, click my pen and write about six characters. I eventually gave up on note-taking entirely. The last coherent one I have is the names of the red-headed husband and wife, Tylar and Amanda of north Georgia, who would become my new friends for the day. They and their friend, whose name I never got (after his first dab, he was mostly too high to talk all day), were the only ones who would be on the bus with me for the long haul — every event, from noon to 11 p.m.
Tylar and I connected because we’re both disabled vets — he used to work on nuclear submarines in the Navy — and the higher we got, the deeper the conversation got. We griped about the VA, swapped funny stories from training, and talked about everything from the senselessness of war to why Bernie would’ve won, to Eminem’s unappreciated genius, to the JFK assassination, UFOs and aliens.
The great thing about stoners is they love to share their weed when they have it, and everyone was in a more-than-generous mood that day. Even though I was broke, and bought no weed at any of the dispensaries we visited, and only brought a gram or two of my own bud, I got higher than I’d been in years. I took more dabs that day than I’ve probably had in the last year of my life combined, many offered to me by total strangers, sometimes with no more communication between us than a silent nod and a hand gesture, followed by exasperated coughing and riotous laughter.
As long as there were people on the bus, those sounds — laughing, coughing and conversation — were as constant as the smoke hanging in the air and hip-hop music playing in the background. I met people of all ages, professions and persuasions from across the U.S. and beyond. Asking someone about the legal status of pot where they were from was a sure way to get an interesting conversation going, and, after breaking the ice with the comical story of my own arrest in New Mexico a few years ago, I coaxed out several hilarious, and a few harrowing, stories from my fellow passengers.
Later that evening, on the downtown loop, I hopped off the bus to buy dinner at Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, a few blocks from Coors Field. Loopr’s next stop is less than two blocks away at Denver Recreational Dispensary (yes, that’s actually its name), so I had plenty of time to finish my burger and a couple beers and take a walk to catch the bus again. The map feature on the app came in handy for figuring that out and allowed me to keep checking the bus’ location while I ate to make sure I hadn’t missed it.
I only bothered to check out two of the dispensaries we stopped at all day. (There are three on the Bud Crawl and at least one on every other event Loopr hosts.) But once you’ve seen a handful of dispensaries you’ve pretty much seen them all. I’m also the least picky eater in the world, especially stoned, so it would be pointless for me to compare any of the places we stopped to eat.
What I was most interested in was the social atmosphere on the ride, and Loopr stood out significantly in that regard. The whole day was a party. It had its lulls and roars, like any other party, but it never lulled to a bore and it never roared out of control. This reporter and Colorado cannabis enthusiast gives Loopr two giant thumbs up.
- Ana Izquierdo
- High End Transportation’s diverse fleet.
Back in December 2016, I and about 30 other Colorado veterans headed out to Standing Rock, North Dakota to protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. At the time Wes Clark Jr., an Army vet, and Michael Wood, an ex-cop who often spoke out against police brutality on Twitter, had famously raised over $1.4 million via GoFundMe to rally a couple thousand veterans for the cause. It didn’t turn out well. High Country News reports, “That money was, at best, squandered and at worst, egregiously misspent.”
For me, the trip was a success, but also a mess. One of the big, white tour buses we had chartered out there lost a window in the blizzard, and the emergency hatch in the roof wouldn’t stay shut, so all of us (minus the driver responsible for the busted rig) piled onto the other bus to keep from freezing. Half the group had rallied in Denver and the other half in the Springs, and it was the Springs bus that had been rendered a rolling refrigerator. We were all hoping that we wouldn’t have to get back on the thing once we reached Denver in order to make the last leg of our journey.
Thanks to High End Transportation, we didn’t.
Like a knight in shining armor, their luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van greeted us at the Denver bus stop. After being told of our plight, the owners had offered the bus to our group free of charge.
We marveled at the massive upgrade we’d just received: comfortable leather seats, two flat-screen TVs — we could even play our own music and recharge our dead phones. And, of course, there was the weed: a bunch of pre-rolled joints, a giant bong and a long wooden pipe, both with bowls already loaded. (Note: High End didn’t provide the weed — that would be illegal; it was purchased by our friend who arranged the ride.)
I’d never been so happy to be stuck in I-25 traffic as I was that day. Several of us vets who use cannabis to treat pain and PTSD had been without our medication for the last several days, so we couldn’t have asked for a better way to unwind at the end of an exhausting and stressful trip. For that, High End Transportation will always hold a special place in my heart.
Marie Peel, who oversees marketing and event planning at High End, was our driver that day, and when I reached out to High End for this story, she and I originally planned on taking a ride to Tetra Lounge, a private cannabis lounge in Denver’s Rino art district, for their Thursday ladies night — one of several private events High End hosts for their customers — but we had to cancel because they ended up fully booked that day. Instead, we met the next day in the Springs for an early lunch.
Peel says her friend and current High End COO Cliff Stokes pitched the idea for the business to her and her wife, Ruby Peel, a few years ago when they lived in northern California, and after a short trip to Denver, they were sold. They’ve been in business just over three years now.
Peel says what makes High End stand out is their unique attention to detail when it comes to their customer’s experience.
“We have a few different tours we do, like the Munchy Tour or Ladies Night at Tetra, but the difference is that during our tour you could just say, ‘Hey, can you take us to the mountains real quick?’ and we’ll do that for you,” Peel says. “That’s what sets us apart from the mass tours.”
“We do the Red Rocks parties, and the bachelorette parties, and weddings, and everything that everyone else does,” Peel says. “But our bread and butter is the couples, or pairs of couples, where we take them on a unique, personalized tour.”
Peel is also currently taking courses to become a helicopter pilot with the vision of taking High End Transportation airborne in the future.
Peel says she and her wife saw starting High End not only as a way to make money but as a way to make a positive impact on the world around them.
“We just want to relay the message that cannabis isn’t a taboo thing — it’s something that can help you,” Peel says.
To achieve that end, High End collaborates with Cannalatino, an online media company which translates information about the economic, social and health benefits of cannabis to make it accessible to Spanish-speaking people around the world.
- Ana Izquierdo
- High End marries cause and purpose.
“Those [Latin American] countries have tons of poor and sick people who may not know that they have a plant indigenous to their area that can help them tremendously,” Peel says.
As a business owned and operated by four people of color (three of them women and two of them veterans), Peel says they believe it’s important to support other business owners from those and other marginalized communities, which is why they like to take their customers looking to buy weed to Simply Pure, one of the first dispensaries in Denver owned by a woman of color, and why they didn’t hesitate to give a free lift to a bunch of veterans protesting DAPL. High End also partners with The Dab, another dispensary in Denver, to give out food to the homeless on Sundays, and staff helps organize and participates in the Pride Parade in support of the LGBTQ community every year.
Peel says, “It’s the best feeling when you can marry a cause and a purpose you’re passionate about with your business.”
Wait, this is legal?There is no law that specifically addresses consuming cannabis in a privately hired vehicle. That apparent loophole opened the door for entrepreneurs to launch the first cannabis-friendly transportation services several years back in the Denver area.
But the law may be catching up to these mobile businesses. In a June sting, Denver police cited 31 people on marijuana tour buses. Eric Escudero, Denver’s director of communications for Excise and Licenses, says the city and county has also sent out 64 letters to businesses, including tour businesses, that it believes may be violating laws against “public consumption.” But does a tour bus or hired car with tinted windows count as “public”? That depends on the specific circumstances, Escudero says, adding that the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, laws governing consumption clubs and other laws and regulations could impact the legal standing of such businesses.
For now, though, the wheels are rolling.