The world’s first state-licensed marijuana retailers legally permitted to sell pot for recreational use to the general public opened for business in Colorado on Wednesday with long lines of customers, marking a new chapter in the US’ drug culture.
About three dozen former medical marijuana dispensaries newly cleared by state regulators to sell pot to consumers who are interested in nothing more than its mind and mood-altering properties began welcoming customers as early as 8am.
The highly anticipated New Year’s Day opening launched an unprecedented commercial cannabis market that Colorado officials expect will ultimately gross US$578 million in annual revenues, including US$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. However, as of Wednesday, 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.
Scores of customers lined up in the cold and snow outside at least two Denver-area stores on Wednesday morning to wait for doors to open.
“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,” said Jesse Phillips, 32, an assembly-line worker who was the day’s first patron at Botana Care in the Denver suburb of Northglenn.
He had camped outside the shop since 1am.
A cheer from about 100 fellow customers waiting in line to buy went up as Phillips made his purchase, an eighth-of-an-ounce (3.5g) sampler pack containing four strains of weed — labeled with names such as “King Tut Kush” and “Gypsy Girl” — that sold for US$45, including tax.
He also bought a child-proof carry pouch that is required by state regulations to transport his purchase out of the store.
Robin Hackett, 51, co-owner of Botana Care, said before the opening that she expected between 800 and 1,000 first-day customers, and hired a private security firm to help with any traffic and parking issues that might arise.
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 this year.
Supporters and detractors alike see the states as embarking on an experiment that could mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition at the national level.
“By legalizing marijuana, Colorado has stopped the needless and racially biased enforcement of marijuana prohibition laws,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project.
Cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under US federal law, though US President Barack Obama’s administration has said it will give states leeway.