Pubdate: Thu, 02 Jan 2014
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2014 The Denver Post Corp
Author: John Ingold
Page: 1A


Historic Day: Sales Brisk, Smiles Wide in State's Rollout of Recreational Pot

No Problems: All Is Relatively Mellow As Customers Wait Hours in Long Lines

In a historic swirl of commerce and cannabis, the world's first 
stores licensed to sell marijuana legally to anyone 21 or older 
opened in Colorado on Wednesday.

 From Telluride to Denver, thousands of people cheerfully stood in 
lines for hours to buy legal marijuana after presenting nothing more 
than identification.

Marijuana activists hailed the day as a watershed in their effort to 
overturn anti-cannabis laws. Store owners - several of whom said the 
turnout exceeded even their own ambitious expectations - feared 
running out of supply.

Police reported no problems with the crowds, and government officials 
marveled at the calm.

Overall, the day went as marijuana activists had hoped it would: In 
the most extraordinary way possible, it was ordinary.

"I've been waiting 34 years for this moment," enthused Chrissy 
Robinson, who arrived at one store, Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, 
at 2 a.m. to be among the first in line. "I've been smoking since I 
was 14. No more sneaking around."

At least 37 stores across the state were fully licensed and opened to 
sell marijuana to anyone 21 or over for any purpose, according to 
official lists and Denver Post research. Sales could commence at 8 
a.m., and activists - who campaigned for the marijuana-legalization 
measure whose passage in November 2012 made the sales possible - 
arranged a ceremonial "first purchase" at the Denver store 3D Cannabis Center.

The store used to be called "Denver's Discreet Dispensary," so the 
name change speaks to the rapid evolution of Colorado's marijuana 
industry, which began in earnest only about four years ago. 3D 
Cannabis Center owner Toni Fox watched the clock carefully as the 
hour approached and dozens of reporters and photographers crowded 
into one of her store's tiny purchasing areas.

"It's 8 a.m.," she said. "I'm going to do it."

The first customer was 32-year-old Sean Azzariti, an Iraq war veteran 
who campaigned for marijuana legalization and said he uses cannabis 
to alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Under a 
canopy of cameras, Azzariti bought an eighth of an ounce of the 
marijuana strain Bubba Kush and a package of marijuana-infused candy truffles.

"We did it!" a beaming Azzariti said at the end of the purchase.

The cost was $59.74, including $10.46 in tax. At the bottom of the 
receipt was the message "Thank you for your purchase!"

"I'm confident these businesses will perform and be a good example of 
how states can regulate marijuana," activist Mason Tvert said just 
prior to the store's first purchase. "Today, there will be people 
around the country buying marijuana. But only in Colorado will they 
be buying it in stores like this one."

Concerns of foes

Opponents of legalization bemoaned the day as the beginning of what 
will be a disastrous venture for Colorado. Drug-treatment 
professionals said recreational sales will lead to increases in 
marijuana addiction among adults and kids. They compared the nascent 
recreational marijuana industry to the tobacco and liquor industries 
and said they expected it to spawn similar harms.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug-policy adviser, said that 
Wednesday marks the dawn of "Big Marijuana."

"In any addictive industry, such as this one, the only way to make 
money is off of addiction," he said Tuesday.

While marijuana sales remain illegal under federal law, no place in 
the world - not even Amsterdam - has gone as far as Colorado to 
legalize and regulate sales of marijuana. The law allows state 
residents to buy up to an ounce of marijuana and out-of-state 
residents a quarter-ounce.

Later this year, Washington state will launch a marijuana industry 
similar to Colorado's. The U.S. Department of Justice has decided not 
to block legalization in either state, so long as the states 
implement strict regulations on the stores.

In a statement Wednesday, Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said 
federal authorities "will be monitoring Colorado's efforts to 
regulate marijuana closely."

"Colorado's system is still very much a work in progress," he said.

Investigators from the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division made 
compliance checks at stores throughout the day. In Denver, city 
officials kept an eye on things, too.

Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown said he was "pleasantly 
surprised" by the large, mellow crowd he encountered during a visit 
to Medicine Man dispensary in Denver, where lines wrapped around the 
building and into a parking lot.

"It's kind of a relief, frankly," he said. "This could have gone a 
lot of different ways. So far, so good."

"What I love about it," Denver Councilman Albus Brooks said, "is the 
peacefulness of the crowd ... and the diversity."

Denver police said they issued two citations for public marijuana 
consumption, although a spokesman couldn't say whether those tickets 
were connected to marijuana sales.

A night-long drive In Telluride, Lucas DaSilva of Georgia drove 
through the night and slept in his car with his dog, Marley, before 
settling at the front door of the Telluride Green Room about dawn. A 
few hours later, he emerged from the store $180 lighter but holding 6 
grams - about one-fifth of an ounce - of African Queen, Acapulco Gold 
and Bubble Gum strains of cannabis and several marijuana-infused edibles.

"I'm at a loss for words," he said, then, with arms outstretched, 
yelled, "Happy New Year!" - prompting cheers from the line.

"This is history I just made," he said. "I can't believe it. Such a blessing."

At 8 a.m., the lines of customers outside most stores were fairly 
short, but they lengthened as the day went on. By midafternoon, 
customers at BotanaCare in Northglenn said they waited as long as 
five hours to make their purchases. At LoDo Wellness, in Denver, the 
line stretched down the block, with a wait of about three hours.

Building owner Donald Andrews gazed at the line and called out, "It 
is a thing of beauty!"

A jump in prices Stores were charging $30 to $50 - and sometimes more 
- - for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana, which is slightly to 
significantly higher than prices for medical marijuana. At least one 
store had increased its prices for opening day. For fear of running 
out on opening day, several stores, including 3D Cannabis, imposed 
added limits on how much customers could buy.

Standing in line outside 3D Cannabis, though, Brandon Harris, 24, 
didn't much care about the price, the limits or the wait. He and 
friend Tyler Williams, also 24, said they had driven 20 hours 
straight from Cincinnati to be in Denver for the first day of sales. 
Now that they're here, Harris said, they're not going back home.

"We're staying," he said. "We're going to become residents."

Staff writers Sadie Gurman, Steve Raabe, Zahira Torres, Eric Gorski 
and Jason Blevins contributed to this report.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom