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Legal recreational pot industry opens in Colorado

By Kristen Wyatt

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 08:32 a.m. HST, Jan 01, 2014

DENVER » The nation's first recreational pot industry opened in Colorado today, 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.

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.

The U.S. Justice Department outlined an eight-point slate of priorities for pot regulation, requiring states to keep the drug away from minors, criminal cartels, federal property and other states in order to avoid a federal crackdown. Pot is still illegal under federal law.

Police in the eight Colorado towns allowing recreational pot sales stepped up patrols to dispensaries in case of unruly crowds. Denver International Airport placed signs on doors warning fliers they can't take the drug home in their suitcases.

With the additional police patrols, the airport warnings and various other measures, officials hoped they have enough safeguards in place to avoid predictions of public health and safety harm from the opening of the pot shops.

They are aware of how many people, from across the country and around the world, were watching. "We understand that Colorado is under a microscope," Jack Finlaw, lawyer to Gov. John Hickenlooper and overseer of a major task force to chart new pot laws, recently told reporters.

There was no shortage of skeptics worried retail pot would endanger the public. A group of addiction counselors and physicians said they're seeing more marijuana addiction problems, especially in youths, and that wider pot availability will exacerbate the problem.

"This is just throwing gas on the fire," said Ben Cort of the Colorado Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Hospital.

Not all marijuana users in Colorado are toasting the dawn of retail sales.

Some medical marijuana patients groups say they're worried about supply. That's because the retail inventory for recreational use is coming entirely from the preexisting medical inventory. Many in the industry warned patients to stock up before the sales began.

It was too soon to tell whether prices were going up.

For now, medical patients should have plenty of places to shop. Most of Colorado's 500 or so medical marijuana shops haven't applied to sell recreational pot, and many that have plan to serve both recreational and medical patients

Marijuana activists were hoping Colorado's grand experiment wouldn't be that noticeable after an initial rush of shopping.

"Adults have been buying marijuana around this country for years," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "The only difference is that in Colorado they will now buy it from legitimate businesses instead of the underground market."

Associated Press writer Jim Anderson contributed to this report.

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HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Lol I have a cat so you know if one has probable dyslexia as I do, or maybe it's just an early onslaught of Alheizmer's, I thought I initially read this at "Pet Shops". Then I thought, why would "Pet Shops" openings make news? So I see Colorado, then uh oh I see it's "Pot" shops lol. So this brings DUI to a new elevated definition!! I wonder if Admiral Neil would have been better off as Governor of Colorado or Washington (with his rumored pot habit)? Hahahaha !! Where are Dave Shapiro and/or Frank DeLima when we need them???!!!
on January 1,2014 | 05:10AM
Slow wrote:
Moofy once accused Kneel of smoking pot. Kneel said he never does it because of his asthma. A co-worker says he smoked with Moofy back in Iolani days. See? Marijuana is bad! It makes you a liar.
on January 1,2014 | 10:05AM
808comp wrote:
Be interesting to see how companies will handle their employees that comes to work smoking pot. I think majority of the people in Colorado will stay away from smoking.
on January 1,2014 | 07:07AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Yeah, the responsible adults won't be smoking and working.
on January 1,2014 | 07:25AM
wondermn1 wrote:
Like a beer, most will wait until the end of the day and given a choice as to drinking and driving or taking a toke and driving I prefer the person taking a toke because its the drinking that kills.
on January 1,2014 | 08:25AM
KurtNJ wrote:
I think employers would respond just as if an employee were drunk. Pot has been around forever and the sky will not fall!
on January 1,2014 | 07:33AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Papa John, Dominos and Little Caesar stocks reach new, uh, highs.
on January 1,2014 | 08:15AM
wondermn1 wrote:
Its about time Hawaii jumps on the bandwagon as the rest of the country is ahead of us again. Decriminalize the use and the need to buy from the people that hide in the shadows and sell Ice & Heroin as well. This way they show an ID for proof of Age and buy from the local store like a beer or anything else they choose. The thoughts of thousands of people spending time in a cage for a product that is accepted by the majority sucks. Hawaii needs to legalize Pot NOW!
on January 1,2014 | 08:23AM
cartwright wrote:
on January 1,2014 | 08:22AM
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