Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jan 2014
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2014 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Newspapers


WASHINGTON - After years of politicking and planning, Colorado makes 
history today when it opens the first retail marijuana stores in the 
United States, allowing state residents to buy up to an ounce of the drug.

Out-of-state visitors will be allowed to buy a quarter of an ounce at a time.

While proponents celebrated the long-awaited day, opponents warned 
that the nation is about to launch a high-stakes experiment that will 
lead to higher rates of drug addiction, lower academic scores for 
children and more arrests for drugged driving.

As the "Rocky Mountain High" becomes officially enshrined in law, 
Sean Azzariti, an Iraq War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic 
stress disorder, was to make the first legal purchase at 3D (Denver's 
Discreet Dispensary) at 8 a.m. New Year's Day. He appeared in a 
television ad in 2012 to explain how legalizing recreational use 
would help him, because his condition was not covered under the 
state's medical marijuana law.

"Adults are using marijuana in every state across the nation. In 
Colorado, they will now be purchasing it from legitimate businesses 
instead of in the underground market," said Mason Tvert, spokesman 
for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver, which helped lead the 
legalization campaign.

"It's a tough day to be part of a street gang in Colorado," said 
Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war 
on drugs. Instead of focusing on pot smokers, he said, police will 
now be freed to pursue "real criminals with everything they've got."

To prepare for the store openings, the Denver Post boosted its news 
coverage, hiring a marijuana editor, creating a newsletter for 
readers and a pot website that includes recipes for "cannabis-themed 
dinners" and reviews of the latest pot films and marijuana strains 
such as "triple diesel" and "granddaddy purple."

So far, the state has licensed 136 pot stores to begin selling the 
drug to anyone over age 21, though not all are expected to be up and 
running on the first day. All of the shops will have to operate as 
cash-only businesses because they are prohibited from using banks 
under federal law. State officials estimate that the sales will 
generate $67 million in tax revenue each year.

Twenty states allow marijuana for medical use, including Illinois, 
where the law takes effect today. But Colorado and Washington state 
are the only two that have approved pot for recreational use. 
Washington state is expected to open more than 300 pot shops in June.

The two states are proceeding after the Justice Department in August 
said it would not block their plans, even though Congress long has 
banned marijuana.

Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., chairman of Project SAM (Smart 
Approaches to Marijuana), a group that opposes legalization, called 
Colorado and Washington state "canaries in the coal mine." He said 
his group will closely follow trends there as a way to persuade other 
states not to legalize marijuana. And he said voters in those states 
should reconsider legalization, predicting that it will lead to more 
highway fatalities, increased hospitalizations and higher dropout and 
truancy rates for schoolchildren.

"We don't have to have other states go down this road and have to 
learn the same hard lessons," Mr. Kennedy said in a conference call 
with reporters.

Drug addiction experts from Colorado joined Mr. Kennedy, saying 
treatment centers in the state are already seeing more demand because 
of rising rates of teen marijuana use. And they said the drug is far 
more potent than a generation ago, increasing the risk of psychosis, 
brain impairment and addiction for school-age kids.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom