January 1, 2014 in Nation/World

Retail pot shops debut in Colorado

Green Wednesday arrives, debate on legalization goes on
Rob Hotakainen McClatchy-Tribune
Sales here in late spring

Retail sales of legal marijuana aren’t expected to begin in Washington until late spring. The state began accepting applications for licenses on Nov. 18. By the time applications closed on Dec. 19, Washington’s Liquor Control Board had received 3,746 applications to grow, process or sell cannabis under the recreational pot law passed last year.

WASHINGTON – After years of politicking and planning, Colorado will make history today when it opens the first retail marijuana stores in the United States, allowing state residents to buy up to an ounce of the drug.

Out-of-state visitors will be allowed to buy a quarter of an ounce at a time.

While proponents celebrated the long-awaited day, opponents warned that the nation is about to launch a high-stakes experiment that will lead to higher rates of drug addiction, lower academic scores for children and more arrests for drugged driving.

As the “Rocky Mountain High” becomes officially enshrined in law, Sean Azzariti, an Iraq War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, will make the first legal purchase at 3D (Denver’s Discreet Dispensary) at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day. He appeared in a television ad in 2012 to explain how legalizing recreational use would help him because his condition was not covered under the state’s medical marijuana law.

“Adults are using marijuana in every state across the nation. In Colorado, they will now be purchasing it from legitimate businesses instead of in the underground market,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver, which helped lead the legalization campaign.

While smoking pot has been legal in Colorado for the past year, so-called Green Wednesday represents another historic milestone for the decades-old legalization movement: the unveiling of the nation’s first legal pot industry in the eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21.

To prepare for the store openings, the Denver Post boosted its news coverage, hiring a marijuana editor, creating a newsletter for readers and a pot website that includes recipes for “cannabis-themed dinners” and reviews of the latest pot films and marijuana strains such as “triple diesel” and “granddaddy purple.”

So far, the state has licensed 136 pot stores to begin selling the drug, though not all of them are expected to be up and running on the first day. All of the shops will have to operate as cash-only businesses because they’re prohibited from using banks under federal law. State officials estimate the sales will generate $67 million in tax revenue each year.

Twenty states allow marijuana for medical use, including Illinois, where the law takes effect today. But Colorado and Washington state are the only two that have approved pot for recreational use. The two states are proceeding after the Justice Department in August said it would not block their plans, even though Congress has long banned marijuana.

Patrick Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island and the chairman of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), a group that opposes legalization, called Colorado and Washington state “canaries in the coal mine.” He said his group will closely follow trends there as a way to convince other states not to legalize marijuana.

And he said voters in those states should reconsider legalization, predicting it will lead to more highway fatalities, increased hospitalizations and higher dropout and truancy rates for schoolchildren.

“We don’t have to have other states go down this road and have to learn the same hard lessons,” Kennedy said in a conference call with reporters.

But with polls now showing a majority of Americans backing legalization, Tvert predicted that other states will soon vote to approve recreational marijuana. Alaska could be among the first, with legalization backers trying to get the issue on the ballot this year.

The Colorado state tourism office is officially downplaying the new industry, fearing it may hurt the state’s image as an outdoor paradise for skiers, hikers and nature lovers. But many private businesses hope that legalization will go a long way toward luring more visitors to the state to buy pot. Newly launched tourism companies, including one called My 420 Tours, said they would offer guided tours of marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers.

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