The reality of legalized marijuana

The reality of legalized marijuana

Colorado is the first place in the world to legally sell recreational marijuana (no – Amsterdam's not legal, law enforcement just turns their heads).  The law changed January 1st, 2014.  We sent Anchor Molly Grantham and Producer Jeff Keene to Denver on a separate special report… but while there, they took a look at the real impact of this new and controversial policy.

DENVER, CO (WBTV) – Contrary to what those who live outside Colorado might think, businesses are not selling weed on every corner.  Medical marijuana shops are well-marked and easy to see, but it took us hours to find a place selling recreational marijuana to anyone over the age of 21.

That's not an accident.

"Being able to sell cannabis legally in Colorado is something special," Tim Cullen, co-owner of Evergreen Apothecary says. "Rubbing it in the face of the community is NOT what we wanted to do."

Which is why he and others in the Denver-area helped push through laws last year -- before recreational marijuana became legal -- to keep public advertising and marketing to a minimum.  And though you can buy weed legally, you can't smoke it in public.

None of that seems to be hurting Cullen's business.

He doesn't have many signs, but a constant line stays out his door.  Since January 1st, Cullen says he has had a sale every 90-seconds.

"As a medical marijuana center we had about 75 sales a day," he says. "Now we're averaging about 375 a day."

Cullen says he'll pay $200,000 in sales tax for the month of January alone.

"The state put out their projections last week at 2014 tax revenue to be collected at $324 million dollars," he says.  "So whether you like cannabis or not, that's a significant amount of money."

It's not just young college kids inside his shop.  All walks of life were making purchases; men, women, black, white, young, old, hippies and professionals just getting off work.  Some were there out of curiosity, some as regular customers.

The selection extended beyond typical marijuana.  While were there people seemed highly interested in what's considered "edibles", including chocolate bars, candies, oils, lollipops, cookies and marijuana-infused lemonade.

"Nothing sells more than any one thing," said Cullen.  "Everything is popular."

Not everyone is so clear on the law and how it affects them.

Because you can't smoke marijuana in public, since January 1st there has been confusion with homeowners association.

Attorney David Firman's firm represents 1800 Homeowner's Associations across the state.  He says he gets daily questions from apartment and resort developments concerned about getting a reputation of being pot-friendly.

"You can't restrict smoking from one unit, but on a community-wide basis you can absolutely restrict smoking," he says.  "We're getting lots of questions about that.  HOA's aren't looking at how to use this to their advantage, they're looking at how to keep it out."

So even though it's causing confusion in some real estate circles, is it overall good for the state?

"I've had some people who say I'm going to take Colorado off my travel plans because I don't want my family involved in that sort of environment," says the State of Colorado's Director of Tourism Al White.  "I've had more who say they can't wait to come because of it.  But let's not forget those who come for it might not spend as much a that father of a family of four who keeps his family in a different state.  If you're looking at the 24-year-old who puts his dog in the micro minivan and $100 bill in his pocket to come to Colorado for a week and leave with $20 change, may not be the same economic impact."

Overall, White says he doesn't think the law is that big of a deal.

"Why would a guy who lives in Cleveland and smoking pot and getting it from his supplier for twenty years, drive to Colorado so he can get it legally?" White asks.  "Be easier to go down to the corner and get it from his supplier."

In this first month, White says he can't tell any real impact… that time will tell.

"It's a good thing or bad thing, you know, kinda depends what happens to the Colorado brand."

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