Colorado has become the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use. While opponents feared the worst, supporters believed the boost to the state’s economy would be incredible; and so far, the numbers have exceeded their expectations. The marijuana industry is booming, and visitors from around the country are happily participating.
The bill to legalize marijuana was passed in November of 2012, and the drug was approved to go on sale for adults over 21 years of age on January 1, 2014. In January alone, taxes from the sale of recreational marijuana exceeded $2 million, not including the $1.5 million in tax dollars from medicinal marijuana. By the end of April, the state had seen $11 million in tax dollars from recreational sales alone.
The high sales tax of 21 percent in Denver (and as low as 13 percent elsewhere in the state) has done little to deter interest among consumers. Voters approved a bill last year requiring the first $40 million in recreational sales tax dollars to be directed toward school construction, and economists predict the state will hit $40 million by the end of the year.
After the $40 million target, however, the state has yet to decide what to do with the excess revenue. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has proposed using a large portion of the income for programs to keep minors away from drugs, substance abuse treatment, and regulations on driving while under the influence of marijuana.
The success of recreational sales has lead to 340 stores opening in the city of Denver so far, and marijuana tourism has grown as a result. Companies catering to visitors offer tours of dispensaries, including the process of manufacturing, harvesting, and of course, purchasing, and offer transportation around the city to avoid tourists driving under the influence.
Denver has seen a 420 rally—also known as a Cannabis Culture Music Festival—at Civic Center Park around April 20th every year for more than 30 years. This year, it grew into a full festival, complete with live music, vendors, and of course, marijuana dispensaries. Organizers estimated roughly 60,000 people were in attendance.
As far as safety is concerned, the drug has caused fewer problems than skeptics had initially feared. However, two deaths have been reported. An exchange student fell to his death from a hotel balcony in March after consuming nearly six times the recommended dose of marijuana-laced cookies. A man also shot and killed his wife in April after consuming marijuana-laced candy. (The dispensary from which he purchased the candy is temporarily closed.)
Twenty states as well as Washington, D.C. currently allow the sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The state of Washington approved recreational sales in November 2012 and began opening stores to the general public in June. The issue will be on the ballot this November in Oregon and Washington, D.C.
The most important thing for visitors to remember is that recreational marijuana is very strong, and those who are not used to smoking it can be very sensitive to its effects, easily falling ill when consuming too much. This is especially true with edibles.
Marijuana-laced foods like chocolates, lollipops, cookies, brownies, or even icing and barbecue sauce have a very high concentration of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and, when ingested, will take much longer to have an effect. Many people become impatient and eat more in hopes of achieving the effects sooner, and become sick as a result.
There are also some restrictions for purchasing marijuana. Colorado residents with a valid ID can purchase up to an ounce at a time, while those with out-of-state IDs can only purchase a quarter of an ounce at a time.
Travelers should also keep in mind that while recreational use of marijuana is legal within the state of Colorado, it is not legal to take out of the state. Possession of marijuana at the Denver International Airport is banned, and the U.S. Postal Service does not allow anyone to mail or ship it.
The same goes for traveling by car. State troopers in Nebraska have reported a 400 percent increase in confiscations at the Colorado/Nebraska border, although authorities in Wyoming and Utah haven’t noticed a change.
By Jessica Hobbs for PeterGreenberg.com