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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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World Watches as Colo. Marijuana Law Takes Effect

By R. Scott Rappold
WebMD Health News

Jan. 9, 2014 – More than a week after marijuana prohibition came to an end in Colorado, the joy has faded as residents adjust to the new normal of having the most liberal marijuana laws in the U.S.

Long lines are gone from the 37 -- and counting -- pot stores around the state, from Denver and Boulder to ski resort towns.

Colorado's Marijuana Law

Colorado is one of two U.S. states where it's legal to smoke marijuana for recreational use. Here's how the law works:

  • Must be 21 or older
  • Can buy 1 ounce at a time (Colorado residents)
  • Restricts non-residents to a quarter-ounce at one time
  • Secondary sales illegal
  • No public smoking
  • No indoor smoking where cigarettes are banned
  • Cities decide whether to allow pot shops
  • Can grow up to six plants if 21 or older
  • Cannot take out of state

Jan. 1 was a different story. Thousands stood in line for hours to be among the first to legally buy the drug for recreational purposes, under a measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2012.

They joked and shared stories about their hometowns. Those who had driven all night to Colorado caught some sleep in line.

“The big surprise for everyone is how happy people were -- even when they were waiting 3 hours in the cold weather -- how happy they were to be part of this historic event,” says Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group in Denver.

But this is not the statewide smoke-out in the Wild West that some have portrayed. In huge sections of the state, including Colorado Springs, nothing changed. Local officials had opted out of allowing pot shops.

Elliott notes the irony that customers who came from out of state had nowhere to smoke. It was illegal to smoke in their hotel rooms because of clean-air laws. It was illegal to smoke outside in public. It was also illegal for them to bring their “souvenirs” back to their home states.

It’s the type of thing that happens when you legalize a drug that remains illegal on the federal level and in 48 other states. Washington State also approved recreational marijuana in 2012.

And while Colorado voters clearly support an end to the pot ban, many harbor concerns about the public health impacts of bringing pot from the back alleys to the store. Will legal marijuana create a new generation of potheads out of today’s young people? Will highways become unsafe as stoned drivers take to the road?

The burden is on a marijuana industry struggling to prove its legitimacy and a state government trying to convince the public and the federal government that weed can be safely regulated.

And they know the world is watching.

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