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


DENVER - They lined up before dawn and in the snow on 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 eagerly 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, albeit with joints being passed instead of Champagne 
being uncorked.

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 on Wednesday.

Regulators said Colorado's first sales - on a day called Green 
Wednesday by enthusiasts - went 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.

Ever since voters in Colorado and Washington approved recreational 
marijuana last year, the states 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 on 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.

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 crack 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 
post-traumatic 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," Ms. 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.

"After that, it is up to the industry to get it up and running," said 
Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor 
Control Board, which regulates the system and is reviewing almost 
5,000 license applications to grow, process or sell marijuana.

Growers can start a crop only after they get a license, Mr. Carpenter 
said, and retailers can sell only marijuana produced in the state by 
licensed growers.

What happens next in both states will be watched closely by Arizona, 
Alaska, California, Oregon and other states flirting with the idea of 
liberalizing their marijuana laws. Questions still abound. Will drug 
traffickers take marijuana across state lines, to sell elsewhere? 
Will recreational marijuana flow from the hands of legal adult 
consumers to teenagers? Will taxes from marijuana sales match 
optimistic predictions of a windfall for state budgets? What will 
happen to the black market for marijuana?

But on Wednesday, enthusiasts like Darren Austin, 44, and his son, 
Tyler, 21, just embraced the moment. They 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. 
On Wednesday, they slept in their truck outside a dispensary, to 
ensure their place in line.

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

Kirk Johnson contributed reporting from Seattle.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom