Skip to main content

A trail-blazing act: Buying pot at a store

By Art Way
January 3, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Customers wait in a long line for their turn to buy recreational marijuana outside the LoDo Wellness Center on Wednesday, January 1, in Denver. Colorado is the first state in the nation to allow retail pot shops. Customers wait in a long line for their turn to buy recreational marijuana outside the LoDo Wellness Center on Wednesday, January 1, in Denver. Colorado is the first state in the nation to allow retail pot shops.
HIDE CAPTION
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Art Way bought marijuana at a store in Colorado on first day of legal pot for adults
  • Way: In line, the mood was celebratory, with people saying "it's about time"
  • Way: Arrests for possession have plummeted, but you can get arrested for public use
  • He says Colorado is leading the nation in a new way to control marijuana and save money

Editor's note: Art Way is the senior drug policy manager in Colorado for the Drug Policy Alliance.

(CNN) -- Retail stores across Colorado sold nonmedical marijuana to adults for the first time Wednesday. As someone who has worked on reforming marijuana laws for nearly three years, I decided to take part as a customer and get in line.

Advocates, industry members and media stayed away from partying New Year's Eve to get up early to commemorate the historic day. We began at 3D cannabis dispensary at 7 a.m. with a press conference. We joined city and state representatives at Medicine Man dispensary later in the morning.

Art Way
Art Way

The atmosphere was reminiscent of a concert or sporting event. People who braved the cold stood in line and made small talk. A lot of people, particularly those over 50, said "It's about time," and told stories about arrests spanning decades for using marijuana. It was like a wedding or Election Night, with lots of picture-taking, hugs and congratulatory wishes -- except it was 7 a.m. and coffee and cocoa took the place of beer and wine.

I waited alongside three fairly young men who drove nine hours from Nebraska to take part. Behind them was a couple from Chicago who insisted their decision to go to Denver was not solely based on buying state-regulated marijuana -- but it played a significant role. Many others were local marijuana users looking forward to experiencing what only medical marijuana patients had been accustomed to in Colorado.

Iraq war veteran Sean Azzariti, right, makes the first legal recreational marijuana purchase in Colorado.\n
Iraq war veteran Sean Azzariti, right, makes the first legal recreational marijuana purchase in Colorado.
Tyler Williams of Blanchester, Ohio, looks over marijuana strains at the 3-D cannabis dispensary on January 1 in Denver, Colorado.\n
Tyler Williams of Blanchester, Ohio, looks over marijuana strains at the 3-D cannabis dispensary on January 1 in Denver, Colorado.

Once in earshot of the "budtenders," the conversation was fairly surreal. I asked for a strain perfect for after work, something to make me relax and help me sleep -- a Marijuana Merlot. I was told two Indica strains are solid sellers for this purpose: Tahoe Triangle and Ogre. Tahoe Triangle had a light pine smell; Ogre was more musty and pungent like you might imagine a hairy monster would be. I went with the Ogre with thoughts of Shrek in my mind.

The stores are fully backed by the state and local governments, and have been given a cautious green light by the federal government to proceed as planned.

Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which legalized pot for recreational use, because they believe marijuana prohibition is more harmful than good and wastes resources. Colorado's previous efforts to decriminalize the plant -- remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana while it still remained technically illegal -- have already proven cost effective, practical and safe. According to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the amendment's decriminalization alone would save the state $12 million in 2012.

In the last decade, the state has averaged more than 10,000 arrests and citations per year for minor marijuana possession. The number of arrests has dropped over the last year to below 4,500, but this number represents high increases in arrests for public consumption.

Public consumption is a primary issue ahead of us. Using marijuana in public is still illegal in Colorado, and the Denver City Council has been engaging in a long back and forth to define "open and public use." The current definition isn't specific enough for the post- Amendment 64 era.

Will Colorado see teen pot problems?
Dispensaries prepare to sell marijuana

The proposed law in Denver would allow for open and public use as long as it's on private property with permission of the owner or lessee. Smoking is not allowed on city sidewalks, parks or the downtown mall.

Law enforcement rarely arrested anyone for public use before Amendment 64, when possession charges were the primary prohibition. We expect this number to stabilize and decline as law enforcement, decision-makers and users establish a culture of responsible use. Fortunately, use and consumption laws will soon be a civil issue in Denver, not a criminal one.

On the way back to the car after making my first fully legal and regulated marijuana purchase, I saw the guys from Nebraska again. I handed them educational brochures created by local reform advocates that provide various resources, address the effects and caution for consuming potent edibles, and generally explain the law. The young men thanked me, jumped in their Jeep with Nebraska license plates and Denver Bronco covers and took off.

The state is addressing potential harms of using marijuana with public education, safety and health outreach efforts. It felt good to put this new reality in action with cautionary discussions with the Nebraskans and others throughout the day.

Colorado is leading the nation in a new way to control marijuana, focusing scarce law enforcement resources away from arresting responsible users. It is satisfying to be part of that process, and it feels incredible to be in a position to promote safety and positive experiences for adults who are now law-abiding. They are pioneering an end to prohibition just by being regular people, standing in line, and behaving with friendly cheer and good spirits on the first day of 2014. The sky didn't fall in the Mile High City.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Art Way.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT