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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT