Colo. First to Regulate Recreational Pot

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3min 46sec

Colorado has just become the first state in the country to pass regulations governing recreational marijuana sales. The historic legislation that passed Wednesday is the product of months of work by a state task force and lawmakers.

Here is a transcript of a report by CPR's Ben Markus:

Reporter Ben Markus: River Rock Wellness is a medical marijuana dispensary tucked into an industrial corner in North Denver. An employee behind the bar shows a customer a 2-pack of pre-rolled joints.

Budtender: These go 8 for members, 12 for non members …

Reporter: Co-owner Norton Arbelaez sits in his sparse office at the back of the dispensary, law books stacked on his desk, and a poster of a marijuana plant on his wall. He sees legalization and the state’s regulations as legitimizing the industry.

Norton Arbelaez: Five, ten, fifteen years from now we will see that this is the crack in the dam that really ended what, in our view, has been the failed and, at times barbaric experiment of cannabis prohibition.

Reporter: Arbelaez and the state’s more than 500 other dispensaries get a head start on recreational sales, under the legislation. New pot entrepreneurs can’t get started until late next year. And only Colorado residents can own pot shops. But medical marijuana patients like Dan Pope are incensed that lawmakers also passed a DUI standard.

Dan Pope: Well, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous.

Reporter: The bill says that drivers with five nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood are too stoned to drive. Law enforcement said it was a key public safety measure, but regular users like Pope say it will net innocent drivers.

Pope: Oh sure, sure. There’s some evidence out there that people, regular users of marijuana could have well over five nanograms in their system the day after using it, being stone cold sober.

Reporter: But despite that, Pope says he’s proud to live in a state that has legalized marijuana, both because he needs it to treat his muscular dystrophy and because he uses it recreationally. Others clearly aren’t so proud. Gina Carbone is with Smart Colorado, a group that offers a counter voice to marijuana proponents.

Gina Carbone: Whether we like it or not, it passed and it’s here, so we just have to try and ensure that our health and safety isn’t compromised.

Reporter: Carbone’s happy to see protections for kids: anything containing marijuana must be in a childproof container, and there’s a ban on mass media advertising. But she’s concerned that local governments may decide to allow smoking clubs, a la Amsterdam.

Carbone: Unfortunately, instead of being known for our beautiful mountains and great skiing, we’re going to be known for pot and increased drug use in our state. I think that’s concerning.

Reporter: She’s also concerned that taxes might not be high enough to pay for full enforcement of the industry. But marijuana proponents like Brian Vicente think the 25% tax is low enough to prevent black market dealing.

Brian Vicente: We need to have a good solid tax rate that brings in a lot of tax revenue, takes money from cartels and brings it into our state coffers, without keeping that black market alive.

Reporter: For a short time there was an effort afoot to repeal retail pot sales if the tax question failed at the ballot in November. Voters must approve any tax increase in Colorado. Brian Vicente co-authored of Amendment 64 which legalized marijuana.

Vicente: I was disgusted that they would push for repeal, I think it’s undemocratic, I think it’s a slap in the face to the Colorado voters.

Reporter: Vicente expects opponents of marijuana to attempt another repeal in the future. Also hanging in the balance is how the federal government will act. They’re reportedly waiting to see what regulations come out of Colorado and Washington. And now Colorado lawmakers have done their part.

[Photo: A cloud of pot smoke over Denver's 4/20 celebration. CPR/BMarkus]