By Tom James
(Reuters) - The first U.S. drive-through marijuana dispensary is set to open on Thursday in a small town in Colorado, a state that has been at the forefront of pot legalization.
The Tumbleweed Express Drive-Thru, housed in a former car wash in Parachute, Colorado, will allow customers to pull their cars into the store's bay to buy pot directly from their vehicles.
"You actually drive into the building," Mark Smith, chief executive of Tumbleweed, the company that owns the new store and six other pot shops in the state, said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
"A door opens up and you drive the car into the building and then the door closes behind you, like in a Jiffy Lube. So in essence, you're inside the dispensary, but in a vehicle," he said.
That process allows the store to comply with Colorado pot laws, which require that marijuana retailers carry out their transactions inside an existing store, ruling out the outdoor windows that are staples of traditional drive-throughs, Smith said.
Officials with Colorado's marijuana regulator were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday, but were quoted in local media as saying the store would need to abide by statewide rules and bar people under 21 from the premises, even in the back of a car.
Parachute, a town of 1,100 people about 200 miles (320 km) west of Denver, banned recreational pot sales in 2013, the year after the state legalized the drug. It rescinded the ban two years later after revenues from natural gas dropped, according to local media.
Concerns have arisen over a potential federal crackdown on states with legal recreational pot.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law but has been legalized for recreational use in eight states, including Washington, Colorado and California, as well as the District of Columbia.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made statements indicating his opposition to allowing recreational use of the drug, and President Donald Trump's administration has indicated it may ramp up enforcement.
Colorado's governor was one of four state governors to sign a letter urging federal authorities not to crack down on states with legal marijuana, and state lawmakers have proposed shield laws to protect Colorado marijuana growers from federal enforcement.
(Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Patrick Enright and Peter Cooney)