The nation’s first recreational pot industry opened in Colorado 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.
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.
Colorado’s cannabis law, which went into force at the stroke of midnight on January 1, is the most liberal in the world. It allows for anyone over the age of 21 to buy the drug over the counter and to legally possess up to an ounce at a time. Under the new regulations Denver, already known as the Mile High City for its altitude, has overtaken Amsterdam as the West’s most progressive cannabis capital. In the Dutch city the drug remains technically illegal, although tolerated, and laws against possession outside of designated coffee shops are still enforced.
The owners of Denver’s 30 legal shops spent the first hours of 2014 engaged in industrial scale spliff-rolling and weedbagging while entrepreneurial snack stalls were set up for the morning rush.
The snaking lines of buyers were kept under close watch by police. But the officers were less concerned about disorderly pot shoppers and more worried that pickpockets would target them: under U.S. law it is still illegal to use credit cards for drug purchases and so the crowds arrived with pockets full of cash.
Their dollars are the first of what the state estimates will grow to a $600-million industry. Colorado officials expect to take $67 million a year in tax revenues and have committed the first $40 million to fund a new school-building program.