Denver (AFP) – Marijuana users celebrated as Colorado became the first U.S. state to allow retail cannabis sales, putting it in the vanguard of efforts across the country to legalize the drug.
The western state famous for its ski resorts and breathtaking mountain vistas has issued 348 retail licenses — including for small pot shops — that can sell up to 28 grams of pot to people aged 21 or older, starting Wednesday.
Washington state on the Pacific Coast will follow Colorado several months from now, when it also allows stores to begin selling cannabis.
Iraq war veteran Sean Azzariti was the first person to legally purchase cannabis for recreational use in the United States.
“It’s an absolute honor, I couldn’t be happier. It’s a huge stepping stone for other states as well, so it’s a huge honor, to say the least,” Azzariti told reporters.
Azzariti, who has campaigned to legalize weed, said marijuana helps alleviate his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
As America’s attitudes on marijuana use evolve, Colorado and Washington legalized recreational consumption of the drug in November 2012 referendums, but the new rules coming into force allow cannabis shops.
“It just makes it an item of commerce, like going into a liquor store,” a gray-haired Charles Pierce, 61, told AFP at the Denver Kush Club, where pot fans lined up in the wind and sleet for the 8:00 am (1500 GMT) opening.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he was proud of the city.
“I want to thank the businesses and consumers alike for acting responsibly and with great accountability today,” he said in a statement.
“Denver is a progressive city, a vibrant city, and it’s incumbent on all of us to continue getting this right,” Hancock added.
State officials here anticipate that marijuana sales will generate some $67 million in annual tax revenue.
Opponents of legalized cannabis warn that it can lead to higher rates of marijuana use and addiction, even among young people who technically are not sanctioned to use the drug.