DENVER -- A week after Colorado dispensaries started selling recreational marijuana to adults, local law enforcers are not reporting any significant problems.
In the state's largest city, there have been only four marijuana citations issued, according to the Denver Police Department.
"Everything has gone relatively smooth," Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson told The Huffington Post. "We've written four citations for public consumption since Jan. 1, and that's relatively small considering the number of people consuming right now."
A similar lack of trouble swept over other Colorado towns. Sgt. Eric Gonzales of the Pueblo Police Department said, "Currently, after looking into our first eight days of the year, we haven't had any issues." The Telluride Marshal's Office also reported no citations since Jan. 1.
The Denver Police Department is not taking any special measures, said Jackson, to look for people consuming marijuana in public, which remains illegal.
"There are rules and parameters that we're charged to enforce, but we are not doing any special operations to go find people who are partaking of marijuana," he said. "At the same time, if we find someone doing something against the law, we'll take the proper actions."
Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 legalizing marijuana for recreational use back in 2012, but legal sales did not begin until New Year's Day 2014. Since then, the state's pot sellers have seen long lines and huge sales numbers.
“Over the past year, our city agencies have worked hard to collaborate with our partners and listen to so many in our community to establish thoughtful regulations," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a Jan. 1 press statement. "We also focused on educating residents and visitors of those laws. We saw the fruits of that labor today."
Consumer interest was so high the first week that many shop owners capped the amount of marijuana an individual could buy or raised prices to mitigate a possible legal weed shortage.
“We’ve been very happy with the rollout so far," said Mike Elliott, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. "I think to me one of the most surprising things is just how joyful, happy, respectful the customers have been, even despite the fact that many of them have had to wait in line for hours." He noted that people have even waited when it was snowing.
Although some were disappointed by the small number of dispensaries that opened on Jan. 1 -- only about 40 around the state, just a fraction of the more than 500 medical marijuana dispensaries eligible to apply for a retail sales license -- Elliott argued that this slower launch could help build public confidence that retail pot will not harm their communities.
"These are good businesses, and there are a lot of important controls put in place to protect safety as the businesses are opening up," Elliott said. "There's a lot of transparency and accountability that has been created, and people should feel very good about these businesses in their communities."
Obtaining a recreational marijuana license in Colorado follows a rigorous process. Only existing medical marijuana dispensaries in "good standing" with the state are able to apply, and shop owners must then be approved by both state and local jurisdictions. Once approved, proprietors take part in a public hearing at which they must show that they have instituted the proper regulatory controls and that their business won't make the neighborhood less safe. Once the hearing is finished and pending approval from a judge, local officials inspect the premises. When all is said and done, retail pot shops must obtain a state license and a local license and pass five local inspections.
"Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the world that regulating marijuana works," said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project and a key backer of Amendment 64. He added, "The implementation process and smooth rollout of the system in Colorado is surely going to pique the interest of lawmakers and voters in other states who are also ready to move beyond prohibition and adopt more sensible policies."
Elliott of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group said that the single biggest problem facing Colorado marijuana shops now is their lack of access to banking services, which can force them to operate as cash-only businesses. Given the continued federal prohibition on marijuana, banks fear they could be charged as money launderers if they let pot-related businesses open traditional commercial accounts.
"This is a particularly frustrating issue," Elliott said, "because it really is the forces outside of Colorado interfering with our program, and in so doing, by jeopardizing banking, it’s creating awful safety and accountability issues."
Earlier this week, the Denver City Council, in a surprising unanimous vote, urged federal regulators not to penalize banks that do business with state-legal marijuana shops. On a national level, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) last year introduced the proposed Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, which would create protections for banks that offer services to state-sanctioned marijuana businesses.
"The banking legislation sponsored by Congressman Ed Perlmutter is a common-sense approach to bring financial legitimacy to the legal marijuana industry," Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks told HuffPost. "It's ludicrous and unsustainable to force large neighborhood businesses to operate entirely with cash. Congress needs to act and act now."
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the Department of Justice is drafting legal guidance for how banks can work with marijuana businesses in states like Colorado and Washington, which also legalized recreational marijuana for adults.
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