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Legalized Marijuana Sales Rock the Rockies

By Hal M. Bundrick 

NEW YORK (MainStreet) It was all the buzz in Colorado in the days leading up to the New Year: legalized recreational marijuana sales would begin January 1. Giddy local retailers were preparing for the crush of customers; head shops were suddenly legit and on the local news -- and the fresh-faced bakery owner proudly displayed her cannabis cupcakes.

The media was on high alert. The Denver Post even hired two pot "critics" and a marijuana editor while simultaneously launching a new website to cover the blossoming legal industry.

International news outlets began interviewing selected members from the hundreds of customers-in-waiting as lines snaked around smoke shops. The demographics of the crowds were such that potential shoppers looked like a ticket line for a Doobie Brothers reunion concert.

With the opening of recreational pot retail sales, Colorado is the only state in the nation where it is legal for people 21 and over to purchase and possess an ounce of marijuana "for any purpose."

With limited initial supplies, demand has driven prices to a premium. Going rates for the first day's business were reported to average about $45 for an eighth of an ounce. And that doesn't include taxes, which can add as much as 29% to the cost. Half of the buyers were reported to be from out of state, though it is illegal to transport the grass across state lines.

In fact, consumers may find it easier to buy pot than to find a place to smoke it. Colorado law prohibits the public consumption of marijuana in high country. You can't smoke in the shop where you bought it, or take a toke in a park, bar, ski slope or anywhere else cigarette smoking is banned.

Even Smokey the Bear can't get a Rocky Mountain high: national parks and forests are off-limits to pot smoking.

Denver has recently considered making even the sight and smell of pot smoking illegal. That would mean taking your recreational use off the front porch of your own house and moving it to a discreet, breeze-restricted area of your back yard.

The Colorado Legislative Council has projected annual sales of retail marijuana for the coming year will total nearly $400 million. Most of that will be in cash. Marijuana retailers usually don't accept credit cards.

Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet