All eyes on Colorado

If marijuana sales prove more profitable than problematic, expect others to follow

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

New Year’s Day was historic for Colorado as the nation’s first recreational marijuana shops opened.

By the second day, more than $1 million in sales was reported — and that doesn’t even count the spin-off tourism dollars expected to be generated.

Residents of the Centennial State are heralding the legalization of recreational marijuana sales as a grand experiment that’s bound to attract thousands of visitors from other states.

I went to my former home state over the holiday and had to have a look at one of the 36 dispensaries that opened statewide. At the 3D Cannabis Center, there were 85 people in line outside the door and the parking lot overflowed. Many of the cars in the lot had license plates from Wyoming, Utah and Kansas.

A new industry has taken root in the Mile High City — “weed tours,” similar to California wine country tours. For $1,900, visitors can sign up for five-day experiences that include pickup from the airport, five nights in a four-star hotel, transportation to a new festival and concert known as the Cannabis Cup, a guided tour of a grow house and daily breakfast-time “wake ’n’ bake” events. All ground transportation is smoke-friendly.

The state government’s tourism leaders say they aren’t going to track marijuana tourism, but no doubt somebody will.

Pot can’t be smoked publicly in Colorado, and although there were widespread fears that people would be smoking in the streets when sales became legal, there were no incidents of abuse in the first days of legal sales. It will take some time before public agencies determine whether any public health problems arise and whether impaired driving incidents climb.

Representatives of Denver International Airport made it clear there would be no tolerance for possession of illegal drugs or paraphernalia at the airport.

Public health officials cringed when a Denver television station aired stories showing a greasy-looking dude licking the cigarette paper to roll a joint for sale prior to the startup.

The Denver Post launched a website dedicated to exploring the culture of pot, called the Cannabist.

State and local taxes on marijuana sales total 21 percent, and an ounce of pot from a dispensary runs about $400. Brisk sales and generated tax revenue have prompted discussion of spreading sales to other places.

Washington state’s voters approved recreational use and will follow Colorado later this year. This month, there were reports that a petition drive has begun in Alaska to legalize recreational sales.

So, should Nevada — a state with a libertarian streak — consider recreational marijuana sales? Should Clark County or Las Vegas, renowned for its anything-goes attitude, let the cannabis genie out of the bottle?

Prostitution is legal in all but two Nevada counties. There’s a high level of tolerance for the consumption of alcohol in our city. The state is one of three to allow Internet gambling.

Would tourism numbers soar if the public were allowed to buy pot for recreational use? Or would the social problems that could result create bigger problems for the state or city?

It’s clear that Nevada’s experience with permitting voter-approved medical marijuana shows some reluctance toward widespread use here.

Everybody will be watching to see whether Colorado’s Rocky Mountain high is a tourism success story or the gateway to new problems.

Tags: Opinion, Business