Pubdate: Thu, 02 Jan 2014
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2014 The New York Times
Author: Jack Healy, The New York Times


Buying for Recreational Use Becomes Legal

Many Come From Other States

DENVER - They lined up before dawn and in the snow Wednesday, baby 
boomers from Nebraska, retirees from Denver and a young man who had 
driven all day from Ohio. Some were longtime marijuana users. Some 
had been arrested for marijuana possession.

They were among the hundreds of tourists and residents across 
Colorado who took part in the country's first-ever sales of 
state-regulated recreational marijuana. They walked into 40 shops, 
from downtown Denver to snowy ski resorts, flashed their 
identifications and, in a single transaction, took part in what 
supporters hailed as a historic departure from drug laws focused on 
punishment and prohibition.

"It makes you giddy to say it: I went into a store and bought pot," 
Linda Walmsley said as she walked out of the Denver Kush Club, where 
a line of shivering customers stretched down the block.

While about 20 states allow medical marijuana, voters in Colorado and 
Washington state decided last year to go one step further, becoming 
the first in the nation to legalize small amounts of the plant for 
recreational use and regulate it like alcohol. Colorado began 
promptly on New Year's Day.

To supporters, it was a watershed moment in the country's tangled 
relationship with the drug. They said it was akin to the end of Prohibition.

To skeptics, it represented a grand folly that they predicted would 
tarnish the image of a state whose official song is John Denver's 
"Rocky Mountain High" and lead to higher teenage drug use and more 
impaired driving.

The governor and the Denver mayor both opposed legalization and 
stayed away from the celebrations and inaugural sales Wednesday.

Regulators said Colorado's first sales - on a day called Green 
Wednesday by enthusiasts - had gone smoothly. Security guards were 
stationed outside dispensaries, and police officers and state 
officials watched closely.

Skeptical federal authorities are also paying attention. Although 
marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Justice Department 
has given tentative approval for Colorado and Washington to move 
ahead with regulating marijuana. But it warned that federal officials 
could intervene if the state regulations failed to keep the drug away 
from children, drug cartels or federal property, and out of other states.

On Wednesday, Colorado had eight investigators out checking 
retailers' licenses, inspecting packaging and labeling, and ensuring 
that stores reviewed customers' identification to see if they were 21 
or older, said Ron Kammerzell, the director of enforcement for 
Colorado's Department of Revenue. "So far, so good," he said. Both 
Colorado and Washington have been racing to devise rules on how to 
grow it, sell it, tax it and track it.

In both Colorado and Washington, recreational marijuana has been 
legal for more than a year. Adults can smoke it in their living rooms 
and eat marijuana-laced cookies without fear of arrest.

In Colorado, they are even allowed to grow up to six plants at home.

But until Wednesday, marijuana dispensaries could sell only to 
customers with a doctor's recommendation and a state-issued medical 
marijuana card.

Many people who lined up Wednesday said they did not have medical 
cards, and had relied on drug dealers or friends with medical 
marijuana to satisfy their cravings. They were paying high prices for 
new recreational marijuana - $50 to $60 for an eighth of an ounce, 
nearly double the price of medical marijuana - but said it was 
worthwhile to avoid the risk.

"People don't like breaking the law," said Andy Williams, who runs 
the Medicine Man dispensary in an industrial park in Denver. "The 
burden has been taken off them."

Now, any Colorado resident who is at least 21 can buy up to an ounce 
of marijuana at one of the dispensaries that began selling to retail 
customers on Wednesday.

Out-of-state visitors can buy a quarter-ounce, but they have to 
consume it here. Carrying marijuana across state lines remains 
illegal, and the plant is not allowed at Denver International Airport.

Addison Morris, owner of Rocky Mountain Mile High Tours, said he had 
10 clients who paid $295 for four hours of chauffeuring by a 
"marijuana concierge" who would help them choose strains and edible 
pot products.

"We're your grandmother's pot connection," the 63-year-old said.

Morris said she's booked through the end of February with 
out-of-state clients. Guests receive samples in designer bags before 
getting tours.

Morris said she's selling discretion. Guests are asked to leave 
cameras at home.

Some medical marijuana patients groups say they're worried about 
supply. That's because the retail inventory for recreational use is 
coming entirely from the pre-existing medical inventory. Many in the 
industry warned patients to stock up before recreational sales began. 
Laura Kriho of the Cannabis Therapy Institute said she worries prices 
will spike and patients will be left paying more if they're not able 
to grow their own.

"We hope that the focus on recreational doesn't take the focus away 
from patients who really need this medicine," she said.

Their fears weren't misplaced. Some recreational shops closed early 
Wednesday because of dwindling supply, and customers grumbled about 
prices going up.

For now, medical patients should have plenty of places to shop. Most 
of Colorado's 500 or so medical marijuana shops haven't applied to 
sell recreational pot.

Recreational sales weren't legal until Wednesday, but pot has been 
legal and free to share in Colorado for more than a year.

So marijuana aficionados gathered statewide to mark New Year's Eve 
with a group toke to count down to when sales began at 8 a.m.

At one party, a 1920s-themed "Prohibition Is Over" gala in Denver, 
women wore sparkly flapper dresses and men donned suits and 
suspenders to gather around communal rigs to light up together.

On Wednesday, some tourists puzzled over where they would consume 
their purchases. It is illegal to smoke marijuana in public, in 
public parks or in campgrounds, and it is against the rules at many 
hotels. One group from Nebraska said it would find a parking lot and 
roll up the car windows. Others said they would return to their 
hotels and open the windows. Some bought marijuana-laced baked goods 
to avoid the problem altogether.

Kirstin Knouse, 24, flew here from Chicago with her husband, Tristan, 
to take her first marijuana vacation, and she said the couple would 
smoke their marijuana at the home of a cousin. She said that she 
suffered from seizures and fibromyalgia, and her husband from 
posttraumatic stress, but that they had not been able to get medical 
marijuana at home. When Colorado opened sales to out-of-state 
residents, she said, they leapt at the chance.

"This is our dream," Knouse said. "We're thinking about moving here 
because of it."

Washington's marijuana system is at least several months behind 
Colorado's, meaning that fully stocked retail shelves probably will 
not be a reality for consumers until perhaps June.

While Colorado has incorporated the existing medical marijuana 
system, Washington is starting from scratch, with all production and 
sale of legal recreational marijuana linked to a new system of 
licenses, which will not be issued until late February or early March.

What happens next in both states will be watched by Arizona, Alaska, 
California, Oregon and other states flirting with the idea of 
liberalizing their marijuana laws.

But on Wednesday, enthusiasts like Darren Austin, 44, and his son, 
Tyler, 21, just embraced the moment. They had arrived a few months 
ago from Georgia and North Carolina, respectively, and decided to 
stay. The father said marijuana eased his anxiety and helped him quit 
drinking, and the son said he simply liked smoking it with friends.

"We wanted to be here," Darren Austin said. "It's historic."
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