Crowds grow like weeds for le­gal sale of pot

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VALERIE RICHARD­SON

DEN­VER | Colorado lit up the na­tion’s first le­gal adult mar­i­juana mar­ket shortly af­ter dawn Wed­nes­day, and Bran­don Har­ris was not about to miss it.

Mr. Har­ris and his friend Tyler Wil­liams, both 24, drove 20 hours from Blanch­ester, Ohio, for the big open­ing. They ar­rived at the 3-D Cannabis Center at 2:50 a.m., which was good enough for 11th and 12th places on the store’s sign-in sheet.

Was it worth it? “Def­i­nitely,” said Mr. Har­ris, who lined up out­side with about 100 other cus­tomers as snow be­gan to fall shortly be­fore the 8 a.m. open­ing.

“It’s such a big day in his­tory,” he said. “The fact that we don’t have to be crim­i­nals and can just smoke, and not be looked down on, or have to mess with the lo­cal po­lice.”

In a le­gal and cul­tural ex­per­i­ment be­ing closely — at times ner­vously — watched by states across the coun­try, about 30 Colorado med­i­cal mar­i­juana shops be­gan sell­ing re­cre­ational mar­i­juana over the counter Wed­nes­day, a lit­tle more than a year af­ter vot­ers ap­proved Amend­ment 64, which al­lows re­tail pot sales to those 21 and older.

Wash­ing­ton vot­ers passed a sim­i­lar mea­sure in Novem­ber 2012, but re­tail mar­i­juana stores aren’t ex­pected to open un­til June.

“For the first time in his­tory, adults are able to pur­chase mar­i­juana legally in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment as op­posed to in the un­der­ground mar­ket,” Ma­son Tvert, who ran the Amend­ment 64 cam­paign, said at a press con­fer­ence in­side the 3-D Cannabis Center.

“In ev­ery state around the coun­try, adults will be buy­ing mar­i­juana to­day, but only in Colorado will they be do­ing it legally in a reg­u­lated store,” Mr. Tvert said.

The cer­e­mo­nial first sale was made to Sean Az­zariti of Den­ver, an Iraq War vet­eran who was turned down for a med­i­cal mar­i­juana card be­cause he claimed post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der, which is not a qual­i­fy­ing ail­ment un­der Colorado law.

“It’s mind-blow­ing,” said Mr. Az­zariti. “It re­ally hasn’t sunk in how big this is yet. I have a feel­ing when I go home tonight, it’ll re­ally hit me. I worked on the cam­paign fight­ing for vet­er­ans with PTSD, and it’s amaz­ing to see that those vet­er­ans will have ac­cess to cannabis now.”

Other states and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will be watch­ing to see how Colorado’s re­tail mar­ket func­tions. If it’s suc­cess­ful, pot sup­port­ers say, they ex­pect the move­ment to spread na­tion­wide. Ac­tivists in Alaska are cir­cu­lat­ing pe­ti­tions to place a mea­sure be­fore the vot­ers on the Au­gust bal­lot.

“It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore law­mak­ers and vot­ers in more states adopt sim­i­lar laws reg­u­lat­ing mar­i­juana like al­co­hol,” said Rob Kampia, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mar­i­juana Pol­icy Project, the largest fi­nan­cial backer of the Amend­ment 64 cam­paign.

“The domi­noes are fall­ing.”

Un­in­tended con­se­quences?

But crit­ics of le­gal­ized re­cre­ational pot pre­dict other states will turn away af­ter wit­ness­ing the un­in­tended con­se­quences of Colorado’s re­tail mar­ket, which they pre­dict will in­clude in­creased school tru­ancy, ad­dic­tion hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and high­way fa­tal­i­ties.

Lead­ing the way is Smart Ap­proaches to Mar­i­juana, a na­tional group founded by for­mer Rep. Pa­trick Kennedy, a Rhode Is­land Demo­crat and mem­ber of the New Eng­land po­lit­i­cal dy­nasty, and Kevin Sa­bet, a for­mer ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Obama’s drug czar.

“What we’ve tried to do is be­come a ve­hi­cle for mon­i­tor­ing of this ex­per­i­ment in Colorado and Wash­ing­ton, and to do so in the hopes that we can­not have to pay tu­ition fees twice,” Mr. Kennedy said at a Tues­day press con­fer­ence. “We don’t have to have other states go down this road and have to learn the same hard lessons that res­i­dents of Colorado are al­ready learn­ing.”

Not ev­ery mu­nic­i­pal­ity in Colorado is sell­ing re­cre­ational mar­i­juana. A num­ber of cities, in­clud­ing Colorado Springs, have banned re­tail pot shops, while Den­ver and oth­ers are ex­pect­ing to ben­e­fit from a surge in tourism from out-of-state tok­ers.

Tax rev­enue

State of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that sales will gen­er­ate $70 mil­lion in tax rev­enue the first year from the com­bi­na­tion of a 15 per­cent ex­cise tax and a spe­cial sales tax that starts at 10 per­cent, but can climb as high as 15 per­cent.

That doesn’t in­clude taxes im­posed by mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties such as Den­ver, which has added a 3.5 per­cent sales tax on top of the state taxes.

De­spite the ex­pected jump in tax rev­enue, Colorado’s top law­mak­ers didn’t sched­ule any rib­bon cut­tings to co­in­cide with the launch. Gov. John Hick­en­looper and Den­ver Mayor Michael Han­cock, Democrats who op­posed le­gal­iza­tion, de­clined to at­tend any of the grand open­ings.

The lack of an of­fi­cial im­pri­matur didn’t put a damper on the fes­tiv­i­ties for out-of­s­taters like Steven Reynolds, who drove 17 hours with his girl­friend, Kim Berger, from Goshen, Ind. It was their first trip to Den­ver, but prob­a­bly not their last.

“I don’t think Indiana will ever do this,” said Ms. Goshen. “So this was a chance to be part of his­tory. Peo­ple have been fight­ing for this for a long time.”

Dar­ren and Tyler Austin, a fa­ther and son from Au­gusta, Ga., painted their faces green, and their friend Sawyer Fos­ter of Long­mont, Colo., dyed his hair.

“We just wanted to be part of the celebration,” said Dar­ren Austin. “It’s def­i­nitely a his­tory-mak­ing mo­ment.”

Tyler Austin held a hand-painted sign that re­flected the views of many mar­i­juana en­thu­si­asts: “It’s About Time.”

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