Colorado’s smokin’-hot new commodity

State draws spotlight as first state to sell recreational pot legally

Employees of Medicine Man in Denver help customers pick out marijuana on the first day of legal, over-the-counter sales with no medical license needed on Jan. 1, 2014. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

Employees of Medicine Man in Denver help customers pick out marijuana on the first day of legal, over-the-counter sales with no medical license needed on Jan. 1, 2014.

DENVER – For $59.74, Sean Azzariti made the symbolic first over-the-counter, government-regulated purchase of recreational marijuana anywhere in the United States shortly after 8 a.m. New Year’s Day.

Dozens of news photographers crowded around Azzariti for what could have been the most thoroughly documented retail transaction in state history.

Some 150 people got in line behind Azzariti at Denver’s Discreet Dispensary, one of around 40 Colorado shops that began selling marijuana to anyone, with or without a doctor’s recommendation.

“It’s a watershed moment as we end prohibition in our country and move into a more sensible era,” said Brian Vicente, one of the principal authors of Amendment 64, which made Colorado the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.

First in line was Azzariti, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who has post-traumatic stress disorder. The condition is not covered by Colorado’s medical marijuana law.

Second in line were Adam Hartle and Anthony Hashem, filmmakers from Jacksonville, Fla., who are making a “comedy documentary” about legalization in Colorado. They got in line at 6 p.m. New Year’s Eve and took turns holding their spot in a tent.

“We just think it’s going to change the world,” Hartle said.

The sentiment was common among people in line. They included men and women of all ages, but young men were the clear majority.

Darren Austin and his adult son, Tyler, came from Georgia and North Carolina for the occasion. With their green face paint, they were the only ones who came in costume.

“We talked about this years ago and said we’ll never see this happen,” Darren Austin said. “I feel free. It’s a good day for everybody.”

Not everyone shares the enthusiasm.

Former congressman Patrick Kennedy heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and he hopes other states will be watching and will avoid making Colorado’s mistakes.

He predicted legalization will lead to more drug abuse during a media call Tuesday.

“If you increase the availability, if you reduce the perceived harm or risk … you’re going to see increased use. There’s no arguing those facts,” Kennedy said.

If Kennedy and his allies get their way, Wednesday’s scene won’t last long. Bob Doyle is launching a Colorado chapter of SAM and announced Tuesday that his group aims to repeal Amendment 64.

“We want to get this back to the voters for another decision, because we don’t think that the people have all the facts,” Doyle said.

But marijuana advocates aren’t playing defense. Instead, they are looking to legalization votes in Alaska and maybe Oregon later this year. In 2016, the Marijuana Policy Project, which bankrolled Amendment 64, has committed to running ballot initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada, said Mason Tvert, the group’s communications director.

But only one state is first, and that’s Colorado. Although Washington state voters legalized marijuana at the same time as Colorado, stores there will not open for a few more months.

As the morning snow gave way to a cool, partly cloudy day, lines of 100 people or more formed outside pot stores across Denver, where 18 stores were licensed to convert their medical marijuana into pot for sale to anyone over age 21.

Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Department of Revenue, visited one of those stores, Medicine Man, in a warehouse district in northeast Denver. Brohl’s department is in charge of policing the new industry, and she said the first day’s activity was proceeding well.

“We have done everything we could do. We have gone about this in a very thoughtful manner,” she said.

As Brohl spoke, a man in a black sweatshirt with graying hair walked out of the store, waving a sealed plastic bag full of marijuana above his head.

“Finally! All right!” he yelled. “It’s about damn time.”

joeh@cortezjournal.com

Darren Austin of Georgia and his son, Tyler Austin of North Carolina, made the trip to Colorado to be some of the first people to purchase marijuana in a legal, over-the-counter sale on Jan. 1, 2014, at Denver’s Discreet Dispensary, one of about 40 shops statewide that were licesed to sell recreational marijuana Wednesday. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

Darren Austin of Georgia and his son, Tyler Austin of North Carolina, made the trip to Colorado to be some of the first people to purchase marijuana in a legal, over-the-counter sale on Jan. 1, 2014, at Denver’s Discreet Dispensary, one of about 40 shops statewide that were licesed to sell recreational marijuana Wednesday.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

Toni Fox, owner of Denver's Discreet Dispensary, makes the symbolic first sale of recreational marijuana to Sean Azzariti, wearing a checkered shirt, on Jan. 1, 2014, in Denver. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald Toni Fox, owner of Denver's Discreet Dispensary, makes the symbolic first sale of recreational marijuana to Sean Azzariti, wearing a checkered shirt, on Jan. 1, 2014, in Denver.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

Dozens of people wait in line to be among the first in the world to buy marijuana legally and over the counter at Medicine Man, one of 18 medical marijuana stores in Denver ñ and about 40 statewide ñ that were licensed to sell recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, 2014. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald Dozens of people wait in line to be among the first in the world to buy marijuana legally and over the counter at Medicine Man, one of 18 medical marijuana stores in Denver ñ and about 40 statewide ñ that were licensed to sell recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, 2014.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

Chris Cook, an employee of Denver's Discreet Dispensary, talks about his stores products on the first day of legal sales, Jan. 1, 2014. At stores around the city, marijuana was selling for  to  for an eighth of an ounce, depending on th strain and quality. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald Chris Cook, an employee of Denver's Discreet Dispensary, talks about his stores products on the first day of legal sales, Jan. 1, 2014. At stores around the city, marijuana was selling for to for an eighth of an ounce, depending on th strain and quality.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

An informational sign from the city of Denver hangs on the door of Denver's Discreet Dispensary on jan. 1, 2014, letting marijuana users know they can't smoke it in public, drive under the influence or carry it out of state. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald An informational sign from the city of Denver hangs on the door of Denver's Discreet Dispensary on jan. 1, 2014, letting marijuana users know they can't smoke it in public, drive under the influence or carry it out of state.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

Marijuana-infused candy is for sale at Medicine Man in Denver on Jan. 1, 2014. Marijuana legalization critics say attractively packaged edible and drinkable pot is a danger to children, who can take it unwittingly. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald Marijuana-infused candy is for sale at Medicine Man in Denver on Jan. 1, 2014. Marijuana legalization critics say attractively packaged edible and drinkable pot is a danger to children, who can take it unwittingly.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

With jars of their product displayed on the table, employees of Medicine Man in Denver sell marijuana to a customer on Jan. 1, 2014, in Denver on the first day that any government in the world allowed licensed retail sales of marijuana. Sale of the drug remains a federal offense, but the U.S. Department of Justice has signaled it will let Colorado sales proceed as long as the state is running a tight regulatory system. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald With jars of their product displayed on the table, employees of Medicine Man in Denver sell marijuana to a customer on Jan. 1, 2014, in Denver on the first day that any government in the world allowed licensed retail sales of marijuana. Sale of the drug remains a federal offense, but the U.S. Department of Justice has signaled it will let Colorado sales proceed as long as the state is running a tight regulatory system.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

A customer at Medicine Man in Denver makes his selection on the first day of retail sales of recretional marijuana on Jan. 1, 2014. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald A customer at Medicine Man in Denver makes his selection on the first day of retail sales of recretional marijuana on Jan. 1, 2014.

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald

Marijuana-infused drinks are for sale at Medicine Man in Denver on Jan. 1, 2014. Marijuana legalization critics say attractively packaged edible and drinkable pot is a danger to children, who can take it unwittingly. Enlargephoto

JOE HANEL/Durango Herald Marijuana-infused drinks are for sale at Medicine Man in Denver on Jan. 1, 2014. Marijuana legalization critics say attractively packaged edible and drinkable pot is a danger to children, who can take it unwittingly.