Kurt Britz checks Kristin Brinckerhoff's identification outside 3D Cannabis Center in Denver on Jan. 2, 2014, the second day of legal sales of recreational marijuana in Colorado. Brinckerhoff waited a day because, she said, "I just knew the lines were going to be out of control." (Denver Post file)

Recreational pot’s smooth launch

Some public officials predicted unruly customers would fight over scarce supplies when recreational marijuana went live in Colorado. Others feared images of public toking would be beamed around the world.

Instead, a peaceful, respectful and mellow crowd greeted the advent of recreational marijuana sales on New Year’s Day.

Marijuana industry representatives and public officials credited the smooth launch to months of planning and cooperation. Former foes agreed along the way to work together to settle such nettlesome issues as whether armed security would be permitted.

“We all realized at some point that our priorities are pretty much the same,” said Mike Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, which considers itself the chamber of commerce for recreational marijuana. “We all want to keep businesses safe and secure and keep the customers safe.”

Public officials and pot supporters created fliers. Police and recreational marijuana shop owners agreed to increase police patrols. Industry advocates encouraged the hiring of security guards at recreational stores.

Denver elected officials, worried about long lines and a lack of supply, worked behind the scenes to double the number of licenses issued in the city for recreational marijuana sales.

“We were trying to come up with a game plan for every possible scenario,” Elliott said.

Guns and marijuana

In the past, no armed security guards worked at medical marijuana businesses, in part because store owners feared federal officials didn’t want guns mixing with marijuana, Elliott said.

Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel to Gov. John Hickenlooper, checked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado and was told armed security would be OK. Many recreational marijuana shops then hired security firms and employed former Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to keep a watchful eye on opening day.

Finlaw said a major reason that things went smoothly Wednesday was due to a state task force that brought marijuana business owners, prosecutors, police and public officials together to work on legislation and regulation.

“We discovered that we all had a mutual goal to get this launched very efficiently and effectively,” Finlaw said.

Industry advocates worked with Denver officials to design and print 50,000 fliers encouraging those buying recreational marijuana to refrain from taking the marijuana outside of Colorado, reselling the marijuana, giving the marijuana to those under 21, engaging in public marijuana use and driving while impaired by marijuana.

Marijuana advocates distributed additional fliers to warn customers that edibles have a delayed effect that might be more powerful than expected.

Police and pot smokers — two groups long suspicious of each other — set aside long-held biases and worked together.

Police agreed to increase patrols near recreational shops, Elliott said.

“It’s pretty phenomenal historically for something like that to work,” he said. “We’ve successfully built bridges between two communities that for years have nothing in common and no common ground.”

Fears expressed

Denver Councilman Charlie Brown said he went to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock weeks ago to express fears that the city wasn’t licensing enough businesses for the expected glut of recreational marijuana customers. Hancock worked to quicken the pace of inspections, and the number of businesses that had been expected to receive licenses for recreational sales in Denver doubled to 18, Brown said.

“We didn’t know how many thousands of people we were going to have,” Brown said. “We could have had cannabis chaos, but there was a last-minute push. We spread those stores around the city.”

One business in Brown’s district in south Denver received a recreational license minutes before the close of city business on New Year’s Eve, Brown said.

Even with the increase in licenses, long lines still formed for customers wanting to participate in the first legal recreational marijuana sales.

Joaquin Ortega, the operations manager and owner of Denver Kush Club, said he hired security guards and prepackaged products to ensure marijuana could be handed out quickly.

“Police were proactively circling around and keeping in contact with us,” Ortega said.

Business remained brisk Thursday at the two marijuana stores open in Edgewater for recreational sales.

Brooke Gehring, one of the owners of the Patient’s Choice store on Sheridan Boulevard, said wait times to make a purchase at the store were around two hours during the morning, falling to about an hour in the afternoon. On Wednesday, the store served nearly 600 customers, with the last purchase coming just before midnight, she said. To keep people in line happy during the day Wednesday, the store brought in a food truck, which eventually ran out of food.

“Everybody was happy and excited to be a part of such a historic occasion,” she said.

Linda Andrews, owner of the LoDo Wellness Center, said that on opening day she turned away customers who reported waiting several hours to buy marijuana, but they returned the next day.

“One guy was so nice about it,” Andrews said. “He said he took two days off for this very reason. They all have been so nice. It’s an easy crowd.”

She didn’t have a security guard on hand the first day of recreational marijuana, but she decided to hire a guard for the second day just to be safe.

“We had one problem — a guy who staggered up drunk,” she said.

She said someone also stole a sign she posted that listed the dos and don’ts for recreational marijuana.

“They just wanted a keepsake,” Andrews said.

Staff writer John Ingold contributed to this report.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com