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By Keith Coffman
DENVER Jan 1 The world's first state-licensed
marijuana retailers legally permitted to sell pot for
recreational use opened for business in Colorado on Wednesday
with long lines of customers, marking a new chapter in America's
Roughly three dozen former medical marijuana dispensaries
newly cleared by state regulators to sell pot to consumers
interested in nothing more than its mind- and mood-altering
properties began welcoming customers as early as 8 a.m. MST
Hundreds of patrons, some from distant states and many
huddling outside in the bitter cold and snow for hours, cued up
to be among the first buyers.
"This is an historic moment," Jacob Elliott, 31, a defense
contractor from Leesburg, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., said
in line outside the 3D Cannabis Center in Denver. "I never
thought it would happen."
The highly-anticipated New Year's Day opening launched an
unprecedented commercial cannabis market that Colorado officials
expect will ultimately gross $578 million in annual revenues,
including $67 million in tax receipts for the state.
Possession, cultivation and private personal consumption of
marijuana by adults for the sake of just getting high has
already been legal in Colorado for more than a year under a
state constitutional amendment approved by voters.
As of Wednesday, however, cannabis was being legally
produced, sold and taxed in a system modeled after a regime many
states have in place for alcohol sales - but which exists for
marijuana nowhere in the world outside of Colorado.
Even in the Netherlands, where some coffee shops and
nightclubs are widely known to sell cannabis products with the
informal consent of authorities, back-end distribution of the
drug to those businesses remains illegal.
Customer No. 1 at Botana Care in the Denver suburb of
Northglenn was Jesse Phillips, 32, an assembly-line worker who
had camped outside the shop since 1 a.m.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
"I wanted to be one of the first to buy pot and no longer be
prosecuted for it. This end of prohibition is long overdue,"
A cheer from about 100 fellow customers as Phillips made his
purchase, an eighth-ounce sampler pack containing four strains
of weed - labeled with names such as "King Tut Kush" and "Gypsy
Girl" - that sold for $45 including tax.
He also bought a child-proof carry pouch required by state
regulations to transport his purchase out of the store.
Back at 3D Cannabis, two patrons from Blanchester, Ohio, -
Brandon Harris and his friend Tyler Williams, both 24 - said
they had been waiting since 2:30 a.m. for doors to open.
"We wanted to be the first people from Ohio to buy it
legally," Harris said.
Robin Hackett, 51, co-owner of Botana Care, said she
expected between 800 to 1,000 first-day customers, and hired a
private security firm to help with any traffic and parking
issues that might arise.
Two inspectors from the Colorado Department of Revenue were
on site as the shop was set to open. "We're just here to help
with compliance issues," one of them, Dave Miller said.
Hackett said she has 50 lbs (23 kg) of product on hand, and
to avoid a supply shortage the shop will limit purchases to
quarter-ounces on Wednesday, including joints, raw buds,
cannabis-infused edibles such as pastries or candies, and even
infused soaps, oils and lotions.
Like other stores, Botana Care also stocked related wares,
including pipes, rolling papers and bongs.
Voters in Washington state voted to legalize marijuana at
the same time Colorado did, in November 2012, but Washington is
not slated to open its first retail establishments until later
TURNING POINT IN DRUG CULTURE
Still, supporters and detractors alike see the two Western
states as setting a course that could mark the beginning of the
end for marijuana prohibition at the national level.
"The era of marijuana prohibition is officially over in
Colorado," said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the
pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.
"Making marijuana legal for adults is not an experiment," he
told a news conference. "Prohibition was the experiment and the
results were abysmal."
He and other supporters of the change point to tax revenues
to be gained and argue that anti-marijuana enforcement has
accomplished little over the years but to penalize otherwise
law-abiding citizens, especially minorities.
Critics say anticipated social harms of legalization, from
declines in economic productivity to a rise in traffic and
workplace accidents, outweigh any benefits.
They also warn that legalizing recreational use could help
create an industry intent on attracting underage users and
getting more people dependent on the drug.
Cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under
federal law, though the Obama administration has said it will
give individual states leeway to carry out their own
Nearly 20 states, including Colorado and Washington, had
already put themselves at odds with the U.S. government by
approving marijuana for medical purposes.
Comparing the nascent pot market to the alcohol industry,
former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, co-founder of
Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said his group aims to
curtail marijuana advertising and to help push local bans on the
drug while the industry is still modest in stature.
"This is a battle that if we catch it early enough we can
prevent some of the most egregious adverse impacts that have
happened as a result of the commercialized market that promotes
alcohol use to young people," he said.
Under Colorado law, however, state residents can buy as much
as an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana at a time, while
out-of-state visitors are restricted to quarter-ounce purchases.
Restraint was certainly the message being propagated on New
Year's Eve by Colorado authorities, who posted signs at Denver
International Airport and elsewhere around the capital warning
that pot shops can only operate during approved hours, and that
open, public consumption of marijuana remains illegal.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by
Dan Whitcomb, Lisa Shumaker, Barbara Goldberg and Chris Reese)