January 1

Legal recreational pot industry opens in Colorado

Retail sales began at 8 a.m. in Denver. But marijuana fans didn’t wait to celebrate.

By Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press

DENVER – The nation’s first recreational pot industry opened in Colorado on Wednesday, kicking off an experiment that will be followed closely around the world and one that activists hope will prove that legalization is a better alternative than the costly American-led drug war.

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Partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year’s Eve party celebrating the start of retail pot sales, at a bar in Denver, late Tuesday.

The Associated Press

Business owners who threw their doors open for shoppers at 8 a.m. are looking for the fledgling industry to generate as much revenue as state officials hope it will. At least 24 pot shops in eight towns opened, after increasing staff and inventory and hiring security.

More than a dozen people waiting in line outside one shop in Denver, as snow fell around dawn. Musician James Aaron Ramsey, 28, was among them, having driven from Missouri. He played folk tunes with his guitar as he waited.

“I’m going to frame the receipt when I go home, to remind myself of what might be possible. Legal everywhere,” Ramsey said, who had served a brief jail sentence for pot possession less than a year ago and was excited to legally buy weed.

Just as shops opened, the Denver police department tweeted, “Do you know the law?” and linked to city websites on state and local laws that include bans on public consumption, driving under the influence, taking marijuana out of state and giving pot to anyone under 21.

Shopper Jacob Elliott traveled from Leesburg, Va., to be among the first to buy legal pot. He said he wrote reports in college about the need to end prohibition of marijuana, but never thought it could happen in his lifetime.

“This breaks that barrier,” he said.

Tinted windows on a black limousine idling outside a dispensary showed another side of the newly legal weed market – people eager to try legal marijuana, but not ready to be seen publicly buying it.

Addison Morris, owner of Rocky Mountain Mile High Tours, had 10 clients waiting inside who paid $295 for three hours of chauffeuring by a “marijuana concierge” who would help them choose strains and edible pot products.

“We’re your grandmother’s pot connection,” the 63-year-old said. “We’re not the hippie stoners who are going to stand in this cold and party.”

Morris said she’s booked through the end of February with out-of-state clients. Guests receive samples in designer bags before getting tours. She said she’s selling discretion. Guests are asked to leave cameras at home.

Earlier, pot users welcomed the new year – and the new industry – by firing up bongs and cheering in a cloud of marijuana smoke at a 1920s-themed “Prohibition Is Over” party in downtown Denver.

Skeptics worry the industry will make the drug more widely available to teens, even though legal sales are limited to adults over 21. They fear that the increased availability will lead to a rise in drug abuse and crime.

Preparation for the retail market started more than a year ago, soon after Colorado voters in 2012 approved the legal pot industry. Washington state has its own version, which is scheduled to open in mid-2014. Uruguay passed a law in December to become the first nation to regulate pot.

Pot advocates, who had long pushed legalization as an alternative to the lengthy and costly global drug war, had argued it would generate revenue for state coffers and save money in locking up drug offenders.

Still, setting up regulations, taxation and oversight for a drug that’s never been regulated before took some time.

Colorado set up an elaborate plant-tracking system to try to keep the drug away from the black market, and regulators set up packaging, labeling and testing requirements, along with potency limits for edible pot.

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