DENVER—Neither snow nor wind nor cold could stop hundreds of determined pot-buyers from lining up at the 3-D Cannabis Center for Wednesday’s historic recreational marijuana launch.
Darren and Tyler Austin, a father and son who hail from Augusta, Ga., arrived at about 2 a.m. along with their friend Sawyer Foster of Longmont, Colo. All three had painted their faces green to commemorate the moment, and Foster had also dyed his hair green.
“We just wanted to be part of the celebration,” said Darren Austin. “It’s definitely a history-making moment.”
Colorado unveiled the nation’s first legalized retail marijuana market Wednesday, and while there was no ribbon-cutting by Gov. John Hickenlooper or Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, the mood was undeniably festive.
“It’s such a big day in history,” said Brandon Harris, who drove 20 hours from Blanchester, Ohio, with his friend Tyler Williams. “The fact that we don’t have to be criminals and can just smoke, and not be looked down on, or have to mess with local police.”
The ceremonial first sale was made at 8 a.m. by Sean Azzariti of Denver, an Iraqi War veteran who was initially denied a medical-marijuana card because he listed as his condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is not a qualifying ailment under state law.
“It’s mind-blowing,” said Azzariti. “It really hasn’t sunk in how big this is yet. I have a feeling when I go home tonight, it’ll really hit me. I worked on the campaign fighting for veterans with PTSD, and it’s amazing to see that those veterans will have access to cannabis now.”
Azzariti was a volunteer for the Amendment 64, the 2012 ballot measure approved by Colorado voters that legalizes small amounts of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, and also creates a regulatory market for retail pot sales.
Voters in Washington state also approved recreational marijuana in November 2012, but a spokesman for the state’s Liquor Control Board said retail sales aren’t expected to begin until June. That makes Colorado’s launch on New Year’s Day the first in the nation.
“For the first time in history, adults are able to purchase marijuana legally in a controlled environment as opposed to in the underground market,” said Mason Tvert, who ran the Amendment 64 campaign, at a press conference inside the 3-D Cannabis Center.
“In every state around the country, adults will be buying marijuana today, but only in Colorado will they be doing it legally in a regulated store,” said Tvert.
Marijuana advocates predicted that other states will follow as they watch Colorado’s market. The next state to legalize recreational sales may be Alaska, where supporters are circulating petitions for an August ballot measure.
“It’s only a matter of time before lawmakers and voters in more states adopt similar laws regulating marijuana like alcohol,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest financial backer of the Amendment 64 campaign. “The dominoes are falling.”
About 30 retail marijuana shops were scheduled to open Wednesday, about a third of those in Denver. Some municipalities, such as Colorado Springs, have banned recreational pot shops within their borders.
Many of those lined up at the 3-D Cannabis Center were from out of state, but being a Colorado resident has its advantages. Coloradans may purchase up to one ounce at a time, while non-residents are limited to ¼ ounce.
The going rate for ¼ ounce was about $100 on Wednesday, and Toni Fox, owner of the 3-D Cannabis Center, said she was working hard to avoid running out of product. About 100 customers were lined up for the 8 a.m. opening, but hundreds more had arrived by noon.
Tvert said the Marijuana Policy Project, which was the biggest funder of Amendment 64, chose Fox’s store for the opening-day press event as a result of her long history with the movement.
“She began volunteering for our organization when I was working out of my house in 2006,” said Tvert, now an MPP spokesman. “She was always very interested in having a legal marijuana business and worked toward that and opened a legal medical-marijuana business, and now she’s been able to realize her dream.”