Up early and in line for a marijuana milestone in Colorado

Regulators said Colorado’s first sales — on a day called Green Wednesday by enthusiasts — went smoothly.

Written by New York Times | Denver | Published: January 3, 2014 1:34:57 am

They lined up before dawn and in the snow on Wednesday,baby boomers from Nebraska,retirees from Denver and a young man who had driven all day from Ohio. Some were longtime marijuana users. Some had been arrested for marijuana possession.

They were among the hundreds of tourists and residents across Colorado who eagerly took part in the country’s first-ever sales of state-regulated recreational marijuana. They walked into 40 shops,from downtown Denver to snowy ski resorts,flashed their identifications and,in a single transaction,took part in what supporters hailed as a historic departure from drug laws focused on punishment and prohibition.

“It makes you giddy to say it: I went into a store and bought pot,” Linda Walmsley said as she walked out of the Denver Kush Club,where a line of shivering customers stretched down the block.

While about 20 states allow medical marijuana,voters in Colorado and Washington State decided last year to go one step further,becoming the first in the nation to legalize small amounts of the plant for recreational use and regulate it like alcohol. Colorado began promptly on New Year’s Day.

To supporters,it was a watershed moment in the country’s tangled relationship with the drug. They said it was akin to the end of Prohibition,albeit with joints being passed instead of Champagne being uncorked.

To skeptics,it represented a grand folly that they predicted would tarnish the image of a state whose official song is John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High and lead to higher teenage drug use and more impaired driving. The governor and the Denver mayor both opposed legalization and stayed away from the celebrations and inaugural sales on Wednesday.

Regulators said Colorado’s first sales — on a day called Green Wednesday by enthusiasts — went smoothly. Security guards were stationed outside dispensaries,and police officers and state officials watched closely.

Skeptical federal authorities are also paying attention. Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law,the Justice Department has given tentative approval for Colorado and Washington to move ahead with regulating marijuana. But it warned that federal officials could intervene if the state regulations failed to keep the drug away from children,drug cartels or federal property,and out of other states.

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