Colorado broke new ground by ringing in the New Year with the nation’s first legal pot industry for recreational use, where a doctor’s note is not required and where production of the marijuana is unregulated (unlike in the Netherlands). Although federal law still makes the sale of marijuana a crime, Attorney General Eric Holder made clear in August 2013 that he’s not much interested in prosecuting marijuana cases.
Following is an account of how the news was greeted in Colorado:
Hundreds of people — if not thousands by the end of the day — braved cold temperatures and intermittent snowfall on New Year’s Day to make history in Colorado by legally buying recreational marijuana. Lines formed well before dawn at most pot shops, but many said that it was worth the lack of sleep and discomfort to be among the first in the world to buy marijuana in state-sanctioned stores. Across the state, 37 shops opened for business and dozens more are expected to open in the coming weeks and months.
The owner of two Colorado Springs medical pot shops who came to Denver to toast the dawn of pot sales for recreational use had this to say:
This feels like freedom at last. It’s a plant, it’s harmless, and now anyone over 21 can buy it if they want to. Beautiful.
Sounds wonderful, but the pot shop owner is wrong, according to Dr. Marvin Seppala, the Chief Medical Officer at the Hazelden Foundation, a prominent drug recovery center in Minnesota. He stated there is danger of addition and studies on the brain have shown the use of pot alters the hippocampus affecting short-term memory. It also affects the lungs. According to Yale University scientists There is a higher chance of users suffering from chronic bronchitis. Marijuana smoking also exposes a user’s respiratory system to infectious organisms such as molds and fungi.
Brian Vicente, one of the co-authors of Amendment 64 called the grand opening “a watershed moment” in U.S. history and said Colorado will serve as a model for other states preparing to legalize marijuana by “charting a path for the rest of the country to follow.” Considering the potential mental and physical negative aspects of smoking marijuana, that path may be filled with snares and dangers.
Of note is that neither Gov. John Hickenlooper or Denver Mayor Michael Hancock were present at the opening day celebrations. Both had campaigned against Amendment 64, passed by Colorado voters in 2012.
In the midst of all the celebratory hoop-la on New Year’s Day over what can rightly be called Colorado’s pot experiment came predictions of a “hogwild” Colorado train wreck. Coming from a surprising source, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) had this to say in a conference call hosted by “Smart Approaches to Marijuana” the day before the Amendment 64 took effect.
Colorado and Washington state — where stores will open later in 2014 — are ‘canaries in the coal mine.’ There are a lot of unintended consequences’ . . . that will make them ponder whether this was the right decision. Kennedy predicted more traffic accidents, increased school truancy, higher drop-out rates, and a general decrease in public health.
Linda Chavez, author of An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal, had these cautionary remarks about the “Rocky Mountain high” in a Dec. 29, 2013 Viewpoint article published in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Even before marijuana becomes legal, the effects of the drug are apparent in everyday life in the city I now call home (Boulder). The work ethic in Boulder already leaves something to be desired. Try finding someone to put in a full eight-hour day doing home repair, painting or yard work in this college town. It they show up by 10, you’re lucky. . . . But the real damage will be to Colorado’s youth. Young brains are especially vulnerable to marijuana use, with studies showing that becoming drug-dependent is far more likely among people who start using marijuana in their teens. Drug related school suspensions are a major problem in Colorado, with more than 5,000 occurring in the last year for which there are records.
The legal limit is a quarter of an ounce for non-Colorado residents, while residents can purchase up to an ounce of marijuana at a time. Buyers are not restricted from shopping from store to store, although under state law they are only allowed to have up to one ounce at a time. Possession of more than one but less than eight ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor and carries fines up to $5,000 and up to 18 months in jail. More than eight ounces is considered a felony and fines can be as high as $100,000 and up to three years in prison. Amendment 64 does restrict where marijuana can be smoked.
One gain is how marijuana warehouses are creating massive energy demands with an increased carbon footprint. An energy bill received by the owner of a Colorado marijuana grow facility was for $21,500 for one month of electricity and climate control. He didn’t complain to the utility but simply paid his bill, admitting that this is just the cost of doing business for him and others in the medical marijuana business.
[First published at Illinois Review, with co-author Bonnie O'Neil.]