Pubdate: Fri, 06 Feb 2015
Source: Nation, The (Thailand)
Copyright: 2015 Nation Multimedia Group
Author: Valerie Hamilton, Deutsche Presse-Agentur


Denver's pedestrian mall is the city's busiest shopping district, an 
all-American high street where crowds bustle between glass-fronted 
rows of popular retailers. Stores here offer shoppers a high-end 
array of merchandise from children's toys to cowboy boots  and since 
April, legal marijuana, displayed like so many strains of exotic tea 
in a mood-lit storefront across from the Sheraton hotel.

Euflora Cannabis Dispensary's owner describes its look as "Starbucks 
meets Apple".

The shop has three locations and a Twitter account.

When Colorado's voters took the historic decision in 2012 to legalise 
marijuana for recreational use, prognosticators on both sides 
predicted it would transform the state. Supporters said it would fuel 
economic development by taxing millions in marijuana sales. 
Detractors said it would fuel youth consumption, traffic accidents 
and crime. But more than a year into what Colorado governor John 
Hickenlooper has called "one of the great social experiments of this 
century", the state's marijuana business feels like business as usual.

"I haven't noticed a difference in the culture," says Ashley Kilroy, 
executive director of marijuana policy for the city of Denver.

"I think for the people who live and work here ... it's not that big 
of a deal."

The smattering of data produced in the first year of legal sales of 
recreational marijuana is hard to parse.

Crime was up slightly in Denver compared to 2013, but traffic 
fatalities were down. The main problems authorities faced were ones 
no one had predicted: overdoses of edible marijuana products and home 
explosions from cannabis extraction accidents. Kilroy says Denver's 
fire department are now "world experts on cannabis extraction safety".

Through October 2014, the state took in more than $60 million (Bt1.9 
billion) in taxes on recreational marijuana and fees related to 
business operations  just over half of the $100 million proponents 
had projected. Economists differ on where those numbers could go. 
What's clear is, Colorado's marijuana business is growing into the mainstream.

Although consumption in public is illegal, adults over 21 can now buy 
marijuana at more than 380 shops across the state. In Denver, there 
are more than four times as many marijuana sellers  205  as there are 
Starbucks coffee outlets. One in four Coloradans uses marijuana, 
according to a December 2014 poll by the Denver Post, which has a 
fulltime marijuana editor and a website, The Cannabist, with 
marijuana-related news and lifestyle articles, including recipes for 
marijuana mayonnaise.

But the very normality of Colorado's cannabis sector has a 
through-the-looking-glass quality, in the context of a country where 
marijuana remains illegal under federal and most state drug laws.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, a reform advocacy group, 
609,423 people were arrested for marijuana possession in the US in 
2013  the year Colorado was processing its first retail licences. 
While federal law gives states wide leeway in setting their own 
rules, the vast distance between Colorado's legal pot and drug laws 
elsewhere is uncharted territory. And the neighbouring states of 
Nebraska and Oklahoma are unhappy with pot illegally crossing over 
the border and in December 2014 sued Colorado to stop it.

The Obama administration has directed federal prosecutors to leave 
state-legal marijuana alone. But banks have still shied away from 
marijuana business clients, fearing they could violate money 
laundering laws. As a result, many marijuana businesses operate 
entirely in cash, even paying monthly taxes with shopping bags full 
of bills, Kilroy says.

"It's an unstable environment," says Michael Elliott, director of the 
Marijuana Industry Group, a trade organisation.

"It's creating a bunch of safety, accountability and transparency problems."

As the marijuana sector grows, these problems may become more 
pressing. The legal marijuana business in the US, including 
recreational and medical marijuana sales, grew 74 per cent in 2014, 
to $2.7 billion, according to ArcView Market Research, a marijuana 
research and investment group. Recreational marijuana use and sales 
are legal in Colorado and Washington states. Alaska, Oregon and 
Washington passed recreational marijuana laws in 2014. Twenty-eight 
additional states allow marijuana for medical use, with varying restrictions.

A Gallup poll in November 2014 showed 51 per cent of Americans 
supported legalising marijuana entirely. But Loretta Lynch, Obama's 
nominee to head the Department of Justice, responsible for enforcing 
federal drug laws, told a Senate confirmation hearing in January that 
she does not. Asked what advice she would give a state considering 
marijuana legalisation, she said they should be informed that federal 
narcotics laws will still be enforced by the Department of Justice.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom