Marijuana is behind only alcohol and tobacco in terms of popularity as a drug among Americans.
In August 2013, the U.S. Justice Department stated that it would not challenge any state that passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana, but federal law does still read that marijuana possession, manufacture, and sale is illegal and can result in life incarceration. This confusing legal situation means that two sets of laws can conceivably be applied to users in Colorado and Washington. The federal government maintains that marijuana violates federal law, but has given evidence that it will choose not to enforce the drug ban.
Recreational marijuana has been legal for adults in Colorado since November, 2012. At that time Coloradans voted yes to legalizing with 65 percent support. After January 1, 2014, however, Colorado will be the only place in the world where cannabis will be legally regulated from seed to sale.
348 retail marijuana licenses were issued in Colorado this week, 14 in Denver. All of the first businesses licensed to sell recreational marijuana were those previously licensed to sell medical marijuana.
Many additional businesses are expected to open in the first months of 2014.
Washington also legalized marijuana in 2012 after voters weighed in.
867 retail licenses for marijuana businesses have been received by Washington authorities. This 867 is part of a total of 3746 marijuana business license applications the state received.
Tourists are expected in the pot-legal states, like tourists who travel to Amsterdam for similar reasons. Some companies are offering marijuana tours. The novelty will give a big initial boost to the business idea, entrepreneurs think.
“Over the last month I have received somewhere between four to six emails a day and five to 10 phone calls a day asking all about the law and when should people plan their ski trip to go along with cannabis,” Adam Raleigh, a cannabis supply company man said.
Some marijuana sellers predict that the sudden influx of tourism could cause marijuana shortages. Some shops are planning to install caps on how much each customer can buy after January 1.
It is predicted that the cost of marijuana will rise as demand in Colorado and Washington surges after legal sales begin, but that the cost will lower as more businesses increase the regional supply.
Medical marijuana is legal already in 19 U.S. states, pulling in $1.4 billion in 2013. 2014 is expected to be more lucrative because of the recreational market in Colorado and Washington; these two states should increase revenue 64 percent to $2.3 billion.
Legalization of marijuana has been remarked on by commentators as the biggest change in drug control policy since the end of prohibition in 1933. The change will include tax revenue, jobs, tourism, and a new, developing industry. The change will also mean that marijuana sales will be brought out of the criminal justice system and into the open.
Currently, American taxpayers pay $10 billion annually to enforce marijuana prohibition.
Retail marijuana in Colorado will be heavily taxed. It will have a 25 percent sales tax plus the three percent Colorado state tax, and some communities are planning to add more taxes. Colorado will gain $67 million in 2014. Half of that amount is already designated to build schools, according to officials.
Buyers are required to be 21 years of age, like alcohol. It is still illegal to consume in public, drive under the influence (the limit is 5 nanograms of active THC), or take marijuana across state borders. Marijuana purchase is limited to one ounce, which retails for $200 or more. Buyers from out of state will be limited to a quarter ounce after January 1 when marijuana sales become legal in Colorado state.
By Day Blakely Donaldson