Cries of joy ring out from the crowd as a large cloud of smoke hovers over the cool Denver air. Dozens of people from around the country are camped outside in the brisk chill to be first in line to get their legalized marijuana.
Here I am, on New Year’s Day, in the midst of what some weed advocates consider the forefront of their newfound freedom.
On Jan. 1, 2014, the first stores licensed to sell marijuana for retail use opened up shop in Colorado. Proposition AA was passed in November of 2012 with 55 percent of voters in favor of legalized marijuana. According to The Denver Post, 37 stores opened around the state with most customer traffic in Denver beginning early at 8 a.m. and lasting until 7 p.m. Wait times lasted as long as five hours.
Despite the excitement surrounding this new law, there are certain limitations. According to Colorado’s official government site, Colorado residents are limited to one ounce of marijuana while non-residents may buy up to one-fourth of an ounce. The use of marijuana is illegal in public for anyone under the age of 21, while driving and for use outside of the state.
On the first day of the new year, I find myself in the right place at the right time. While sitting at Starbucks enjoying my tea, the buzzing cannabis shop across the way steals my attention. News cameras have finished interviewing people as they exit the shop – “people watching” at its peak.
At 11:34 a.m., I watch a police car pull into the parking lot and slowly ease up to the front of the shop. Busted, is my first thought. No cutting, my second thought. Wait, it’s legal, third thought. However, as the policeman gets out of his car, his demeanor appears calm and his interactions friendly as he strolls into the store.
Picture it like a 21st century speakeasy. Small clusters of eager attendees huddling in a tiny room at the front with a bouncer waiting to check IDs. And just like that, with the proper approval, they are able to enter the mecca shop of marijuana.
Once you’re in, the weed world is your oyster. A cannabis connoisseur greets customers to sort, serve and satisfy their “weeds”. These people are not only enthusiastic about pot, they are experts and entrepreneurs. Their aura tells you everything you need to know. As you step into the room, you leave your conscience, previously planned errands and your mother’s voice at the door.
Super Silver Sour Diesel Haze. Train Wreck. Rolling Thunder. Lucky Charms. Strawberry Cough. Pick your pleasure – this is the world of weed.
The impact of this legislation is sweeping. According to CNN, the new law creates numerous jobs while Colorado generates an enormous amount in tax revenue, with a 25 percent state tax and a 2.9 percent sales tax. An estimated one-eighth ounce of weed can cost between $50-70, twice as much as the charge for medical users. The Contributor further reported the first $40 million from sales will be put toward constructing and improving schools through the state’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program.
The effect of the legalization in Colorado has already persuaded other states to follow suit. The NY Times reported earlier this month that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York plans to announce an executive action to allow the medical use of marijuana. Furthermore, CNN interviewed Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, who predicts similar marijuana initiatives in six other states for 2016: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada.
As I walk past the shop, I notice more people lining up to be a part of what appears to be the most exclusive day club in Colorado. I break into a doped-up smile from a different kind of high. The overwhelming potency of cannabis is not the only smell filling the nostrils of the citizens of America. Change is also in the air.
Reach the writer at Lawong@asu.edu