The eyes of the world will be on Colorado this New Year's Day as adults 21 and over become eligible to legally buy marijuana for the first time anywhere. Sales will be tightly controlled, regulated like alcohol is currently, and subject to a number of restrictions preventing sales to minors, intoxicated driving, smoking in public and other undesirable behavior. The Colorado Legislative Council estimates marijuana will generate $67 million in tax revenue annually.
"This Wednesday Coloradans stop buying marijuana from street gangs and cartels and start buying it from licensed, regulated sellers who create jobs and pay taxes to the government," said 36-year policing veteran Lieutenant Tony Ryan (Ret.), a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the war on drugs. "Soon our jails will be less crowded, our schools will be better funded, and our police more able to focus on violent crime."
Initially only licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in good standing (of which there are about 500) are eligible to apply for sales licenses As of early last week, the state had approved 348 total licenses, including 136 for retail stores, 178 for cultivation facilities, 31 for product manufacturing facilities, and 3 for testing facilities. Each shop must also apply for a local license, and localities are able to pass bans or temporary stays on the stores if they so choose. Adult Coloradans are eligible to buy up to ounce of marijuana; out of state visitors up to one quarter-ounce.
LEAP's executive director Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) had this to say: "Though, as with any new system, there will be issues to be worked through at first, the people of Colorado are about to show the world that legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana benefits the economy, public safety and ordinary citizens. I predict that after a year or two, once the media stops focusing on anecdotes of people behaving badly and we start to see hard data on the real benefits of ending prohibition, there will be a domino effect that echoes across the world."
Washington state voters also chose to legalize marijuana in November of 2012 and retail sales will begin there later this year. Since that election, the Uruguayan legislature approved President José Mujica's legalization proposal and Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico City and many other places are considering adopting similar systems.
"It's a tough day to be part of a street gang in Colorado. Not only did they just lose one of their biggest sources of income, now that police don't have to focus as much on nonviolent offenders, they'll be coming after real criminals with everything they've got," added Franklin.
The first customer will be an U.S. Marine Corps veteran who appeared in several commercials for the Amendment 64 campaign which successfully legalized the drug. Sean Azzariti suffers from post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) caused by two deployments to Iraq, which is not among the conditions covered under Colorado's medical marijuana law.