Marijuana may now be legally bought in Colorado for recreational purposes. However, one should not transport that marijuana across statelines to Utah.
“They will be arrested,” said Grand County Sheriff Steve White. “It is still illegal in Utah. Colorado makes it clear you can’t take it out of the state once you purchase it.”
Twenty-four state-licensed marijuana retail stores in Colorado began legally selling marijuana to adults 21 years of age and older on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Colorado is the first state to establish a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol. No doctor’s note is required, as it is in 18 states and Washington, D.C..
Most of the shops opened in Denver. Aside from long lines and sporadic reports of shoppers cited for smoking pot in public, there were few problems.
“Everything’s gone pretty smoothly,” said Barbara Brohl, Colorado’s top marijuana regulator as head of the Department of Revenue.
Colorado made marijuana legal for adults in November 2012 when 55 percent of voters approved a statewide ballot initiative known as Amendment 64.
Retail marijuana is being heavily taxed, with a 10 percent tax per sale and a 15 percent excise tax based on the average market rate of the drug. The state won’t have the first round of receipts until late February. but it seems clear that demand is strong. A trade group Thursday, Jan. 2 said three of its retail members reported between 600 and 800 customers during the first day. Colorado has projected $67 million in annual marijuana tax revenue.
Hundreds of customers queued up in the cold to buy legal marijuana for the first time in Telluride, Colo.
Telluride is one of only a handful of towns in Western Colorado to allow retail marijuana sales. The town drafted its own ordinance this summer to set up a licensing structure and regulate the sale of retail marijuana. It was approved in September. San Miguel County also passed regulations allowing the sale of retail marijuana.
Thousands of dollars changed hands at three marijuana dispensaries on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Buyers included everyone from a San Miguel County politician to visitors and Telluride locals. Many expressed elation on the landmark day.
The Green Room on South Fir Street was the first to open in Telluride. First to make a purchase from the Green Room was Lucas DaSilva of Washington, D.C.
“We’re on a road trip from D.C. on the way to California, but we had to stop here to make history, man,” DaSilva said. “I’m now going to be able to tell my kids that I was one of the first people to legally purchase marijuana in Telluride, Colo. This is amazing and an experience for me — I’m very happy about this.”
One of the first customers at Alpine Wellness was San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes. Goodtimes is a Green Party member and a longtime supporter of the legalization of cannabis. He said he thinks reasonable regulation of marijuana in Colorado will be a good thing, as long as it’s not abused.
“I was one of the few state officials at the county commissioner level who supported Amendment 64 when it came through,” Goodtimes said. “One of the things [the Green Party] is concerned with is these unscientific laws that are on the books that don’t make any scientific sense such as making marijuana illegal. But yes, I’m happy. I’m a paleo hippie — twice the age of anyone you should trust.”
Greg Viditz-Ward, owner of the Green Room, said he has been stocking his supply for months. He said he has no idea what the market will do from here on out. However, he did note that New Year’s Day was his biggest day of sales ever.
“We were saving up for quite a few months — A lot of our harvest.” Viditz-Ward said. “We’ve been saving up, kind of getting ready for this day. We have a very limited selection to start off with, a few edibles and of course [marijuana by the ounce]. Who knows what to expect? I see this like the end of prohibition, which is huge.”
Keeping pot within Colorado’s regulated system and within the state’s borders are among requirements the U.S. Department of Justice has laid out to avoid a clampdown under federal law, which still outlaws the drug.
Sheriff White said that his officers have not yet seen any issues related to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. But, it is only a matter of time.
“When tourists start coming back, we’ll see an influx,” he said.
Possession of marijuana is a $623 fine. Possession of paraphernalia is also a $623 fine.
Grand County attorney Andrew Fitzgerald’s office prosecutes all marijuana-related crimes in Grand County.
“At least once a month we have somebody caught with marijuana on the highway – coming or going to Colorado where it is somewhat legal,” Fitzgerald said.
Depending on the situation, his office may recommend reducing the fines.
“We try to look at those circumstances and make recommendations, rather than one-size fits all,” Fitzgerald said. “Someone who has a usable amount and they’re from Colorado or another state with a medical marijuana license, it is typically just a fine. They will rarely do jail for that.”
But if one is found driving under the influence (DUI) while impaired from using marijuana, the stakes get much higher.
“If you’re found within impairment, you would be arrested,” White said.
According to state code, a first time DUI is a class B misdemeanor. If convicted, one must spend at least 48 consecutive hours in jail, perform 48 hours of community service, or be subject to electronically monitored home confinement.
The DUI fine is at least $700.
Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said that the fine may be moderate and one may be put into jail and have bail, but the real cost of driving while impaired may be driving privileges.
“Your drivers license will be suspended for six months,” Fitzgerald said. “If you have any job that relies on your drivers license, I would absolutely 100-percent stay away from marijuana.”
Fitzgerald said that his office has no control over the suspension of a drivers license.
“It is all the DMV (Utah Department of Motor Vehicles). They revoke licenses based on a conviction,” Fitzgerald said. “That is the biggest hurt people can get for buying a little weed in Colorado. It’s a pretty harsh consequence.”
However, you don’t have to be impaired to get into big trouble.
“Others who may have marijuana from Colorado and give it to a friend, or sell it to kids – we take that very seriously,” Fitzgerald said.
Marijuana may not be transported across stateline
“It is still illegal in Utah. Colorado makes it clear you can’t take it out of the state once you purchase it.”