Pubdate: Tue, 29 Apr 2014
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2014 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Trevor Hughes


"We've become the experiment of the nation, and it's ruining our reputation."

Coloradans are used to hearing jokes from friends across the country 
about the pot-friendly city of Boulder. Heck, we make those jokes ourselves.

Over the past few months, the national conversation about the entire 
state has shifted away from our snow-capped mountains highlighted by 
John Denver's song Rocky Mountain High. It seems all anyone outside 
our state wants to talk to us about is a different kind of high: the 
one associated with marijuana.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the latest but will certainly not 
be the last outsider to mock the state, which has also been the butt 
of late-night comics.

Last week, Christie poohpoohed Colorado's efforts to tax and regulate 
legal marijuana, suggesting there are "head shops popping up on every 
corner" and people flying in to get stoned. For some of us, such 
comments are taking a toll.

"We've become the experiment of the nation, and it's ruining our 
reputation," says Gina Carbone, a spokeswoman for SMART Colorado, a 
parental group working to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids.

There's no doubt things have changed since legalized marijuana made 
its debut here Jan. 1. I smell pot far more today when I walk around 
Denver than I ever did living in Boulder a few years back.

Friends talk openly about eating pot-infused candy for the first 
time. Adults can buy up to an ounce of marijuana from more than 100 
state-licensed stores. It's a surreal experience, especially for 
people used to buying a baggie of questionably sourced pot from a 
dealer on the street or a friend of a friend.

The contrast between the state-regulated stores and the black-market 
experience highlights a reality that an awful lot of non-Coloradans 
seem to ignore. According to a Gallup Poll last year, 38% of American 
adults have tried pot. That says to me that even if you've never 
tried marijuana, your friends and neighbors most certainly have.

The rapid growth of Colorado's marijuana industry is another 
significant tell. There's certainly a "Wild West" feel to the 
industry, but we're actually seeing a long-secret economy surface. 
Although Christie dismissed the idea of collecting taxes from pot, 
the money is rolling in for Colorado, which has collected nearly $17 
million in marijuana taxes and fees this fiscal year. Before the 
state started taxing the industry, every penny of that was vanishing 
into the hands of black-market dealers running sometimes violent, 
all-cash operations.

That's the scene the pro-pot Marijuana Industry Group (MIG) wants to 
set for the rest of America. The group argues that Christie's 
comments reflect a dated and inaccurate view. Over the next several 
months, all legal marijuana and pot products sold in Colorado will be 
tested for quality and strength at state-approved labs. "Coloradans 
are choosing control over chaos," Mike Elliott of MIG says.

The taxes and the way public safety is being addressed seem to get 
lost in the larger conversation. I see it for myself when I talk to 
friends and colleagues across the country. They laugh about whether 
the cookie I'm eating is full of marijuana and ask whether my fridge 
is still full of pot chocolate I bought for a story. (It is.)

How will this all shake out? I don't know. My cop friends worry that 
Colorado's experiment will lead to a rapid increase in stoned drivers 
on the road. Carbone's group frets about the effect on kids, 
potentially setting the stage for increased underage use. And the 
vast majority of Colorado residents roll their eyes when someone 
makes yet another joke about Denver really being the Mile High City.
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