On Jan. 1, Colorado becomes the first place anywhere in the world to allow legal marijuana sales to anybody over 21 for any purpose. You have questions about how it will work? Here are 64 answers (See what we did there? No? Keep reading.) to commonly asked questions.
Question: Marijuana is about to be legal in Colorado?
Answer: Marijuana is actually legal now in Colorado. Since the voter-approved Amendment 64 (ah, there it is) went into effect on Dec. 10, 2012, it has been legal for anyone 21 and over to use marijuana or possess up to an ounce of marijuana for any purpose — even if it is just, as Rolling Stone magazine has put it, “for getting high purposes.” Marijuana possession and use by people under 21 who aren’t medical-marijuana patients remains against the law.
Q: What’s happening Jan. 1, then?
A: New Year’s Day is the first day that marijuana can be sold to anyone over 21 at specially licensed stores. Though marijuana use, possession and sales remain illegal under federal law, nowhere else in the world has pot sales this legal, not even Amsterdam.
Q: So, where can I buy weed?
A: There looks to be more than two dozen shops able to open on Jan. 1 for recreational sales. We here at The Denver Post have compiled a list of stores expected to be open. But it comes with two caveats: There may be other stores out there open for recreational sales on Jan. 1, and it’s possible some of the stores on the list will choose not to open on Jan. 1.
Q: How will it work?
A: Basically, you walk into a store, show your ID and make your purchase. It’s a lot like a liquor store.
Q: Where are the stores located?
A: The state has approved licenses for stores from Telluride to Alma to Garden City. But the vast majority of recreational marijuana stores, at least initially, look like they will be in Denver. Lots of other big cities — like Colorado Springs — have banned the stores. Other cities, including Boulder and Aurora, look likely to allow them but are going slow in setting the rules and accepting applications. Of the 136 stores that received state approval in the first wave of licenses to go out just before Christmas, 74 percent of them — 101 — are in Denver.
Q: Are there limited store hours?
A: Yes. Under state law, stores can’t open before 8 a.m. and they can’t stay open later than midnight. Cities, though, can set more restrictive store hours. In Denver, recreational marijuana shops can’t be open past 7 p.m.
Q: Are there limits to how much I can buy?
A: People with a Colorado ID can buy up to an ounce of marijuana at a time. People with an out-of-state ID can buy up to a quarter ounce.
Q: Will there be enough pot to go around for recreational customers on Jan. 1?
A: Some stores are concerned about that. Commercial growing for recreational stores isn’t legal until Jan. 1, either. So all the marijuana being sold to recreational customers on New Year’s Day will come out of a one-time transfer from the stores’ medical-marijuana supply. That has business owners worried they’ll be short, with rumors abounding that some shops may limit even further the amount people can buy on Day 1. “It’s something we’re all going to have to deal with,” Dixie Elixirs general manager Randy Good said last week.
Q: Can I make multiple purchases on the same day?
A: Yes. The only cap on how much you can buy is the legal possession limit: No one who is not a medical-marijuana patient can possess more than an ounce of marijuana at a time. But that’s up to the customer to abide by. There’s nothing in the state’s rules for recreational marijuana stores that requires them to track customer purchases.
Q: So I can go store-to-store-to-store buying up marijuana?
A: Yep. If you’re doing that with the hope of accumulating a lot of pot that you can sell in the black market, it’s known as “smurfing.” It’s illegal, and it’s something that law enforcement officials are super worried about.
Q: Is there any kind of list of marijuana customers that will be given to the government?
A: No. Amendment 64, which is a constitutional measure, specifically forbids it. The measure states: “The department shall not require a consumer to provide a retail marijuana store with personal information other than government-issued identification to determine the consumer’s age, and a retail marijuana store shall not be required to acquire and record personal information about consumers other than information typically acquired in a financial transaction conducted at a retail liquor store.”
Q: Is there anything that will show I bought weed at one of the stores?
A: You’ll be on camera. The state’s rules for marijuana stores require the shops to have a security camera pointed at the cash register so that it can record “the customer(s) and employee(s) facial features with sufficient clarity to determine identity.” Stores must also have security cameras recording the entrances and exits.
Q: Can I smoke up at the store?
A: No. On-site consumption is prohibited at marijuana shops. You have to take your leaves (or buds) and leave.
Q: So where can I go to consume? Are there cannabis clubs or coffee shops?
A: It’s a little fuzzy, but no. Some places may try to discreetly offer private areas where marijuana use is allowed or at least overlooked — like the Cannabition party wanted to do on Wednesday night at the Norad Dance Bar. But, under Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act, pot smoking isn’t allowed anywhere that cigarette smoking is also banned and there’s no cigar bar-style exemption for blunts.
Q: Can I just puff at a park somewhere?
A: Absolutely not. Public consumption is banned, banned, banned and probably prompts more anxiety from public officials than just about any other topic. Denver police have stepped up enforcement in the second half of 2013, though Denver won’t have officers on Jan. 1 specifically tasked with stopping public toking. Boulder has upped its citations, too.
Q: Ski slope?
A: Ski nope. Colorado’s winter resorts are not at all stoked at the possibility of stoned skiers. And, what’s more, most of the actual ski slopes are on federal land, where marijuana use and possession remains strictly verboten.
Q: So that means taking marijuana on a summer camping trip is probably out, too?
A: Yes. National parks, national forests, national monuments: All off-limits. Possession is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Q: What about apartments?
A: Landlords can say no. But what all of this is getting at is that the only place it’s clearly OK to consume is in a private residence where the owner is cool with it.
Q: How about on my back patio, front porch or balcony?
A: Different cities will regulate this differently. Denver, for a time, even considered banning marijuana use that could be smelled by a neighbor, as well as bans on backyard, front-porch and apartment-balcony marijuana use. The city backed off on all of those, but that doesn’t mean they’re OK everywhere.
Q: Wait, Denver tried to regulate pot smell?
A: Oh, it still does investigate complaints about skunk funk, but it has to be a very strong marijuana odor for the city to take action. And how is that odor measured, you ask? By the Nasal Ranger, of course.
Q: Can I take marijuana with me on a plane?
A: No. Taking marijuana out-of-state is totally illegal, even if you’re traveling to another legal-marijuana state. The Transportation Security Administration may not turn your bags inside out looking for marijuana, but they don’t approve of it either. And marijuana possession is banned at Denver International Airport — even if you’re just there to pick up a friend.
Q: Can I send marijuana in the mail?
A: Mail = fail. The U.S. Postal Service not only doesn’t allow pot in the post, it has stepped up its efforts to find marijuana mail. People who send marijuana through the mail can face federal charges or asset-forfeiture cases.
Q: Tourists are coming to Colorado for the start of recreational sales, right?
A: At least three companies are planning to offer marijuana tours on New Year’s Day, but nobody knows how big of a deal marijuana tourism will be. Certainly people will come for the cannabis. But state tourism officials are opposed to promoting Colorado as a hash holiday destination, and most resorts and hotels aren’t exactly embracing the idea either.
Q: So where will those tourists consume marijuana?
A: Hotels have the ability to allow — or turn a blind eye to — guests’ consumption. But Denver, for instance, prohibits marijuana consumption outdoors in areas of non-residential private property that are visible from a public space. So certain hotel balconies in the city are off-limits. Furthermore, the city’s marijuana info website notes that pot smoking could only be allowed indoors in designated smoking rooms, and hotels can’t have more than a quarter of their rooms designated as such. Still, word-of-mouth has gotten around about some hotels that will allow marijuana use, and they are expecting brisk business this New Year’s Day.
Q: Is it OK to drive with marijuana in my car?
A: Yes, as long as you are transporting it and not consuming it. Driving stoned is absolutely against the law. In fact, Colorado this year made it easier to win convictions against stoned drivers. The state set a standard of how much THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, that drivers can have in their system. If a driver tests above that, prosecutors can tell the jury it’s OK to assume that driver was stoned.
Q: Will my employer be OK with me using marijuana?
A: That’s really between you and your boss. Employers can pretty clearly fire people who show up to work baked. But Colorado case law around medical marijuana suggests they can also fire an employee for off-the-clock marijuana use, even if there’s no allegation that the employee was impaired on the job. Some businesses say they won’t mind if their workers get high on their own time, but as one lawyer put it, “Employers hold all the cards.”
Q: What about contact high? Could I be fired for being around someone using marijuana?
A: Likely not, for the simple reason that contact highs are really difficult to come by. According to a psychopharmacologist — real word, look it up — at the University of Colorado, it would take “an absurd amount” of secondhand pot smoke to trigger a positive test. One study showed there needs to be 14 joints burning in a 10-by-10 room to get a positive test for contact high, which is beyond all but the hottest of hotboxes.
Q: With all these caveats, I can legally possess an ounce of marijuana. How much is that in practical terms?
A: It’s a lot. Researchers have calculated that the average joint has slightly less than a half gram of marijuana. (Yes, this is actually something that people with Ph.D.s did.) An ounce is slightly more than 28 grams. So one ounce will get you close to 60 joints. In alcohol terms, it’s a keg of pot.
Q: And how much will it cost?
A: In the medical-marijuana market, ounces run from $150 to close to $300. But almost nobody buys full ounces. The more common purchase amount is an eighth of an ounce. Think of it like a 12-pack. Eighths run around $25 to $45 for medical marijuana. We’ll have to wait and see what stores set as the recreational prices.
Q: Does that include tax?
A: No, and get ready for the sticker shock when tax is added on. While medical marijuana purchases only get standard sales tax in most places, recreational marijuana purchases get standard sales tax, plus hefty special state sales and excise taxes, plus extra local sales and excise taxes in many cities. For a $30 eighth, state taxes will run about $6. Extra taxes in Denver will add on another $2.59. All together, that’s nearly 29 percent.
Q: Where’s all that money going?
A: The first $40 million generated by the state excise tax will go toward school construction. The rest of the money is slated to be used to regulate the marijuana stores and put together educational campaigns around marijuana. But many expect the revenue to exceed even those needs, and a number of cities have already begun dreaming about what their share of the tax money could do.
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