The debut of the world's first legal recreational marijuana got off to a smooth and celebratory start with stores across Colorado selling joints, buds and other pot-infused products to customers from across the United States.
“It's a historical event. Everyone should be here,” said Darren Austin, 44, who drove from Georgia and joined a festive crowd gathered in falling snow outside Denver's 3-D Cannabis store. “This is going to be a turning point in the drug war. A beginning of the peace.”
His son Tyler, 21, held a sign saying “It's about time”. Like his father, he painted his face green. “I'm going to move to Colorado. Seriously,” said Darren.
Behind them waited Savannah Edwards, 21, a substitute teacher who drove overnight from Lubbock, Texas. “I'm here not so much for the marijuana as the history.” Just as people reminisced about Woodstock, she would be telling this story half a century from now, she said. “I've never been to a dispensary before. I don't even know what I'll buy.”
Colorado became the first jurisdiction in the world – beating Washington state and Uruguay by several months – to legalise recreational cannabis sales. Voters approved the measure in a ballot initiative in the November 2012 general election – a landmark challenge to decades of “drug war” dogma which could herald a shift as radical as the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933.
JD Leadam, 24, a bioplastics producer from Los Angeles, flew in just for the day. “This is the first time in the whole of the world that the process is completely legal. It's something that I can tell my kids about.”
After Washington, Alaska may follow suit later this year, with activists then targeting Arizona, California, Nevada and Maine, said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Making marijuana legal for adults is not an experiment. Prohibition was the experiment and the results were abysmal,” he told a press conference.
Activists, customers and media gathered at the 3D Cannabis store for the first ceremonial sale. "It's 8am. I'm going to do it," said Toni Fox, the owner.
The first customer was Sean Azzariti, an Iraq war veteran who featured in pro-legalisation campaign ads. He bought an eighth of an ounce of an Indica strain called Bubba Kush and some marijuana-infused truffles. Total price, $59.74, including 21.22% sales tax.
State regulations insist every marijuana plant must be tracked from seed to sale but about 400,000 of the 2m tags sent in the post did not reach all stores in time. Authorities allowed licensed stores to sell regardless. The Denver Post called the glitch disappointing.
The three dozen stores that sold recreational pot on Wednesday will multiply in coming weeks. Regulators have issued 348 recreational pot licences: 136 for retail stores, 178 for cultivation, 31 for infused edibles and other spin-off products, and three for testing.
Cynthia Johnston, 69, bought two pre-rolled joints ($10 each) and an eighth of an ounce of Sour Diesel. “I've been working towards this moment since 1979,” she grinned. “Now, where can I smoke?”
Not in public spaces and not, according to notices which sprouted overnight, in many hotels. Pot must be consumed in private and cannot be transported over state lines, putting some restraints on the expected pot tourism boom.
Fears of joint-toking throngs in the street did not materialise by midday. Police said crowds were orderly and respectful. Denver City councilman Albus Brooks hailed their diversity and peacefulness.
As the first customers left the stores clutching their purchases jokes rippled across Twitter. “Curious if there has been a spike in Funyuns, Doritos and Taco Bell sales across Colorado today?” asked one.