Pubdate: Sat, 14 Dec 2013
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2013 The New York Times Company
Authors: Jack Healy and Kirk Johnson


DENVER - Starting early next year, any adult with a craving or 
curiosity will be able to stroll into a strip mall or downtown shop 
in Colorado or Washington State and do what has long been forbidden: 
buy a zip-lock bag of legal marijuana.

After landmark votes made marijuana legal for recreational 
consumption, users in these two states will no longer need doctors' 
notes or medical reasons to buy the drug. Instead, they will simply 
show identification to prove they are at least 21, and with the 
cautious blessing of state and federal officials, they will be able 
to buy as much as an ounce of marijuana and smoke it in their living rooms.

It is a new frontier of drug legalization, one that marks a stark 
turn away from the eras of "Reefer Madness," zero tolerance and Just 
Say No warnings about the dangers of marijuana. But it also raises 
questions about whether these pioneering states will be able to 
regulate and contain a drug that is still outlawed across most of the 
country - although medical marijuana can be sold legally in 20 states 
and the District of Columbia. The end of the prohibition of alcohol 
in the 1930s, by contrast, to which some historians and legal 
scholars are comparing this moment, came all at once across the nation.

On this never-traveled road, the outcome on many fronts is uncertain: 
Supporters predict an economic boom in new business activity, 
cannabis tourism and reduced public expense with fewer low-level drug 
offenders clogging jails and courtrooms.

Elected officials, parents' groups and police chiefs worry that drug 
traffickers will exploit the new markets, that more teenagers will 
take up marijuana, and that two places with reputations for fresh air 
and clean living will become known as America's stoner states.

Other states flirting with legalization are watching closely too, not 
least for the expected windfall in state revenue in stiffly taxing 
something that has never been taxed at all.

Referendum drives modeled on Colorado and Washington are already 
underway for next year in Arizona, California, Oregon and Alaska, and 
others are expected to follow in 2016. So the pressures to get it 
right the first time, local and state officials said, are immense.

"We are floating in uncharted waters here," said Mayor Michael B. 
Hancock of Denver, where 149 businesses have applied to sell or grow 
retail marijuana.

Consider, for example, the strangely altered new role of the police, 
who in Washington are required to make sure all marijuana is of the 
legal, state-licensed variety. That could make for more crackdowns on 
illegal grow-and-sale operations, not fewer, a fact highlighted when 
federal agents raided several dispensaries in Colorado last month, 
smashing glass and hauling away hundreds of plants.

Practical questions about the legal, workaday drug trade have 
required reams of rules and regulations to answer: Should it be 
specifically taxed? Voters said yes, and in Washington even specified 
where the tax money should be spent, with specific apportionments 
including the funding of academic research about marijuana.

Can people give it away in public parks? No. Where can retailers set 
up shop, and how can they advertise? Nowhere near schools, and not to 
children. In Washington, even the size of a retailer's storefront 
name is regulated: 1,600 square inches.

But most important, Colorado and Washington must show skeptical 
federal authorities that they can control this new world of regulated 
marijuana, and keep it from flowing to underage consumers, into other 
states or into the grip of drug traffickers and violent cartels. Even 
as the Justice Department announced in August that it would not block 
states from regulating marijuana, it also warned that their 
enforcement rules "must be tough in practice, not just on paper."

"We're already seeing a worst-case scenario emerging," said Kevin A. 
Sabet, an opponent of legalization and the co-founder of Project SAM, 
Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He said marijuana was already flowing 
from dispensaries into the hands of teenage users, and he predicted 
the social costs would only mount in the months ahead.

One corner of this new frontier is emerging in an industrial park on 
the eastern fringes of Denver, where the Medicine Man dispensary is 
working to be among the first wave of new retailers. The business, 
housed in a converted spice factory, is expanding its growing 
operation from 5,000 plants to 11,000, sketching out plans to remodel 
the interior and placing advertisements in golfing magazines, to 
appeal to potential customers. Even the countercultural names of its 
marijuana - Cat Piss Romulan, for example - will be softened.

"That's not something you want to take home," said Andy Williams, who 
owns Medicine Man with his brother and mother. "Maybe we'll call it 
Midnight Dream."

Under Colorado's rules, some shops will have to build separate 
entrances and new walls to separate their medical business from their 
recreational business. Medical customers - there are about 112,000 
statewide - will pay a lower sales tax than recreational buyers. And 
businesses will be required to keep separate records and inventories.

Colorado residents will be able to buy an ounce at a time. Visitors 
will be allowed a quarter-ounce. (Prices now range from $25 to $50 
for an eighth of an ounce.) Both legalizing states will allow adult 
out-of-state visitors to buy and consume, but neither allows 
consumption in public, and both bar transporting legal marijuana 
across state lines.

So far, no dispensaries in Colorado have cleared the final 
inspections and obtained the final licenses to begin selling 
recreational marijuana. Licenses in Washington will be issued as 
early as January, but the first retail marijuana to sell will not be 
available until spring.

But even the wait itself underscores what is perhaps the biggest, yet 
subtlest implication of legalization: What once seemed wild, 
dangerous and radical to most Americans has become the stuff of state 
and local bureaucracy.

Although the governors of Colorado and Washington both opposed 
legalizing marijuana, once the voters had spoken, they and other 
state officials threw themselves into setting up shop to make 
marijuana work. In Washington, the State Liquor Control Board is in 
charge. In Colorado a commission presented plans to the Legislature, 
and state and city agencies are now sifting through applications.

"We know that we are under the microscope of experimentation here," 
said Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Colorado's governor, who 
helped develop the state's new marijuana regulations. "Now the 
challenge is rolling it out and making sure the rules are properly enforced."

That mainstream momentum, and its message that marijuana is part of 
ordinary life, like a drink after work, is in turn spilling over into 
other states. In October, a Gallup survey found that 58 percent of 
Americans favored making marijuana legal, the strongest support in 
the poll's history.

"Those victories in Washington and Colorado transformed the 
legalization and regulation of marijuana from an abstraction into a 
political reality," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the 
Drug Policy Alliance, which supports legal marijuana. "How do we 
morally justify arresting people and locking them up when just across 
the border, or a few hundred miles away, it's being treated more or 
less like alcohol?"

In Arizona, where people are gathering signatures to put legalization 
on 2014 ballots, organizers said a transplant from Washington who 
worked on the initiative there, came with a resonant message of 
practical, proven strategy: lose the tie dye and any green leafy 
symbols that might remind anyone, anywhere, of Cheech and Chong or 
Bob Marley, and then, dressed well and speaking politely, expand at 
every opportunity the constituency beyond college students.

"Present a normal-type atmosphere, instead of a drug-use-type 
atmosphere," said John Howlett, 58, a former airline mechanic who 
volunteered in Washington and has been working with Safer Arizona on 
its referendum drive since his retirement there last year.

The mainstreaming extends to economics too. In Washington, about 
1,700 applicants have filed for state licenses to grow, process or 
sell marijuana since the application process began last month. In 
many cases - if only to gauge by the names of applicants like Killer 
Grown Bud and Holy Smokes Farms - the new entrepreneurs are marijuana 
enthusiasts whose interests predate legalization.

But there are also people like Donald Burks. He's a 70-year-old 
farmer in western Washington who said he has never tried marijuana 
and has no interest in doing so now. He applied for a grower's 
license because he saw a market for specialty seeds and starter 
plants - an agricultural niche he knows well after 30 years farming.

"Every farmer I know is on the lookout for a new crop," he said. Mr. 
Burks said he never imagined that marijuana would one day become an 
agricultural crop, legal as parsnips, but he admits he's been wrong before.

"I didn't expect I'd see broccoli become a popular product either, 
and it has," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom