For more than 70 years, the sale of marijuana for recreational use has been criminally prohibited in the United States. But that ban, as it has existed for decades, ended Wednesday in Colorado.
The historic first, legal sales of recreational marijuana to those 21-and-older began in the morning at select dispensaries in Colorado — the first state in the nation, and the first government in the world, to control and regulate a legal recreational marijuana industry.
“This is a big day,” said Tom Angell, chairman of drug reform group Marijuana Majority. “With what Colorado is doing now, and what Washington state and Uruguay will do later this year, we’re finally getting a chance to show the world the benefits of legalizing and regulating marijuana that we’ve been talking about for so many years”.
Voters in both Colorado and Washington approved recreational marijuana in 2012, but Colorado was quick to implement the laws allowing approved marijuana businesses to open on New Year’s Day.
According to the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), the agency that regulates the marijuana industry in the state, more than 300 marijuana businesses in Colorado have begun to receive their state and local licenses to operate legally, but only a few dozen retailers were able to complete the rigorous inspection and approval process in time to open their doors Jan. 1.
Colorado adult residents can purchase up to an ounce at a time, while tourists can purchase up to one-quarter ounce. However, some shop owners have said they may put a purchasing cap in place at first to preserve supplies.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) has been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization and said he “hated” the idea of marijuana legalization in the state.
Concerns still remain about whether or not recreational marijuana’s legalization will increase crime and instances of driving under the influence, and if legitimizing a drug with deep ties to a black market can drive the criminal element completely out.
For residents and tourists in Denver, the city government recently launched an educational website on the new laws. Some key rules:
· It’s illegal to give marijuana to minors.
· It’s illegal to sell marijuana unless you are a licensed business.
· It’s illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana.
· It’s illegal to consume marijuana in public.
· It’s illegal to take marijuana out of the state.
With Washington’s dispensaries expected to open in the coming months, a slew of other states considering legalizing marijuana as soon as this year, and popular support for legalization in the U.S. at an all-time high.
“As a nation, we look back at alcohol prohibition and ask how we could have been so foolish,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for Marijuana Policy Project, to HuffPost. “It’s time to look forward and put the equally foolish policy of marijuana prohibition behind us.”