DENVER – As the business day closed Wednesday on Colorado’s historic – and mellow – amble into the record books, even those who fretted over the nation’s first recreational marijuana sales were able to relax.
Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown said late Wednesday he was "pleasantly surprised" by the behavior of thousands of pot buyers from across the state and across the nation who braved long lines and intermittent snow to make their New Year's Day cannabis purchases.
"It's kind of a relief, frankly," he said to the Denver Post. "This could have gone a lot of different ways. So far, so good."
Denver police reported no incidents.
At 8 a.m., doors opened and cash registers hummed at about three dozen retail pot shops in Colorado, from the mountain resort town of Telluride to industrial districts in Denver. Colorado allows up to 1 ounce per adult of recreational marijuana to be purchased legally at specialty shops. Out-of-state buyers – and there were plenty Wednesday – can buy a quarter ounce.
But prohibitions abound. Smoking marijuana is forbidden in public indoor spaces, outdoor parks, forests and ski resorts. And while adults can exchange small amounts of marijuana with one another for free, it is still illegal to sell it.
Colorado’s New Year’s cannabis celebration was the culmination of more than a year of political hand-wringing and a maze of regulations that began immediately after voters passed Amendment 64 in November 2012, which legalized small amounts of recreational marijuana. The state of Washington has also approved a similar measure, but officials there say it will not be until later this year that retail stores can open.
Though some people lined up early Wednesday to be the first through the door, the much-anticipated crush of early birds mostly did not materialize. Instead, crowds of mainly men, young and old, began to swell in the late morning and remained steady until closing time.
By state law, pot stores must close by midnight. In Denver, a local ordinance puts the last sale at 7 p.m., but stores can close earlier.
"Insane," was the one-word summation by Matthew Noah, a "budtender" at Dank Colorado, a small shop tucked into a nondescript office building in Denver. He said the lines snaked down the hallway, out the door and down the sidewalk through most of the day.
By 5 p.m., security guards were turning customers away, figuring they would never make it to the counter by closing time. Though sales figures for the small store were being kept under wraps, Noah told the Los Angeles Times that by late afternoon he had tallied 192 sales to in-state customers and about 120 to out-of-state customers at his register, one of two at the store.
Concerns about running out of product were mostly unwarranted.
With each sale, a cheer went up among the scores still waiting in line as darkness fell. One woman who had still not made it into the shop said she had been waiting for hours - long enough to drain her phone battery.
Jason Pixley, a burly security guard who also works concert venues, shook his head. "This is the happiest I’ve ever seen people who have had to stand in line for four hours."
Exhausted but still chipper, Noah shrugged. "And we get to do it all again tomorrow."