Mile high milestone: Pot fears were unfounded (column)

Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown predicted bad things for New Year’s Day and the world’s debut of legal recreational marijuana sales, fearing a press photograph of wanton dope smoking would stream across news wires and forever tarnish Denver’s image.

He even penned a column for his constituent newsletter with the headline “Cannabis Chaos.”

“I have to change that,” Brown said on Wednesday, sitting in a chair inside the Medicine Man Denver marijuana store in Montbello. “I’m going to call it ‘Marijuana Milestone.’ “

All concerns were alleviated Wednesday as people calmly lined up, bought their weed and giddily drove away.

For months, state and city officials have focused on Jan. 1, 2014, when marijuana sales were scheduled to begin in Colorado at 8 a.m.

Would systems be in place, licenses in hand and laws on the books? Would the world mock Colorado for attempting such a foolish folly as to let adults walk into stores to buy weed?

Nothing on Wednesday would suggest anything other than celebration.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Brown said. “But I am still concerned about the long-term implications of youth access.”

Before the sun rose on the new year, lines of mostly men waited outside stores throughout Denver as light snow fell.

At Medicine Man Denver, the wait was more than an hour. Crowds were quiet and jovial. A sign at the entrance said, “Happy Independence Day.”

About half the customers came from out of state. They approached the counter, viewed the bags of marijuana hanging on the wall and questioned staffers about the different strains.

No one complained about taxes, and no one lit up after leaving with their white, sealed bags.

A police officer patrolled the perimeter with a dog. And the store’s armed security personnel kept a close eye on customers, checking ID at the door and monitoring security cameras.

One woman passing out cookies in line was asked to stop out of concerns the cookies could have been laced with marijuana.

Fears were unfounded, said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

“I call it the Y2K of marijuana,” Tvert said, referring to widespread fears about computer problems in 2000. “What did people really think was going to happen? There are adults buying marijuana today in every state. The only one where it is legal is here. “

Pot proponents marked the day as an end of prohibition. City and state leaders visited the stores, saying they were confident about the system in place. Owners and staff who spent a frenzied few months getting ready were relaxed by the sound of the ringing cash register.

Problems, if they occur, won’t be easily detectable and certainly weren’t obvious on Day 1.

The feds have said Colorado is OK to proceed but have promised to bring down the hammer if youth access to marijuana increases, pot is trafficked across state lines, organized crime gets involved and drugged driving becomes a big problem, among other things.

“Today is about kicking off this new industry,” said Denver Councilman Chris Nevitt.

Sora Kang, 24, drove from Kansas to buy a quarter ounce of sativa, which she says helps calm her down. She bought a strain called Jack Herer 3 for $120.49, including tax.

“I think this is going to change a lot of things,” she said, hoping other states follow Colorado.

John O’Connell, 65, from Massachusetts was among the first in line at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver. The Vietnam veteran and Woodstock attendee said he didn’t want to miss the moment.

“This has been a long time coming,” he said before buying his first package of legal weed. “We’ve been living under a legal cloud for too long.”

Jeremy Meyer: 303-954-1367,, Twitter: jpmeyerDPost.