Colorado begins selling recreational pot

In an unprecedented wave of progress for marijuana advocates, Colorado is now the first state to permit the sale and use of recreational pot.

According to the Denver Post, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in November 2012 after activists pushed the state to overturn its anti-cannabis laws. Now, anyone 21 or older can buy up to an ounce at a licensed store, while out-of-state visitors can purchase a quarter ounce. Residents can also grow up to six pot plants in their homes, CNN reported.

Greg Scott, director of DePaul’s Social Science Research Center, said Colorado is the first place in the world to go beyond decriminalization and permit marijuana for retail use. Even the Netherlands, which is famous for its “coffee shops,” hasn’t officially legalized recreational pot.

“Colorado is truly a test bed for any sort of policy and/or law infrastructure,” Scott said.

For Colorado legislators, the allure of this new policy lies in the money. According to CNN, retail marijuana is taxed 25 percent (in addition to the state sales tax), which is expected to initially produce $67 million in revenue per year.

However, state officials don’t plan to get greedy with the extra cash. Scott said the “lion’s share” of this additional revenue will go into programs that serve the public good, including schools and streets and sanitation. He believes that this use of marijuana money will ease the minds of those who opposed legalization in the ballot box.

Some opponents believe that the new law is a major safety concern, but Scott refuted them, explaining that the mortality rate associated with marijuana is extremely low. He also doesn’t foresee a spike in DUIs. Marijuana isn’t as disabling as alcohol, he said, and the pattern of pot use doesn’t tend to involve vehicles.

“You (pot smokers) don’t bar hop, you don’t pot shop hop,” he said.

Erik Jensen, a DePaul sophomore and resident of Evergreen, Colo., is similarly unconcerned about an increase in DUIs and other safety hazards.

“I feel that if we’re going to see that stuff, we would have already seen it by now,” he said.

Instead, Jensen is wary of the people this law will attract. According to him, medical marijuana in Colorado has already been a magnet for people who just want cheap, free pot, and he’s afraid this law will take that to another level.

“Then other people might get that perception that everyone in Colorado is like that, and then if we make the nation more like that, then it wouldn’t be the best interest,” he said.

If Colorado manages to trump these concerns and the policy proves successful, Scott believes legal recreational marijuana will begin spreading to other states – including Illinois. Despite conservative leanings downstate, Scott sees Illinois legislators jumping on board with the economic and agricultural potential of pot.

“People tend to relax their morality when there’s an opportunity to increase the revenue,” he said.

As for the federal level, Scott expects to see nationwide legalization sometime in the next 20 years. More and more people are starting to see that it makes sense on biological and economic levels, he said, and there’s a growing frustration with the war on drugs.

“We realize as a public increasingly that it’s a racist, classist money-making scheme that the government mounted 100 years ago to line their own pockets, and I think people are starting to see that it just doesn’t make sense for us to keep pouring tax money-our own tax money-into a war that makes no sense, that isn’t paying off, that we’re not ever going to win,” he said.

Jensen is part of the disheartened public that Scott described, and he hopes to eventually see the end of the anti-cannabis laws. He supports Colorado’s new policy and believes that kind of thinking at the federal level would be a great improvement.

“It would be nice to see where this goes with Colorado and whatnot, but I think it looks beneficial for the nation as a whole,” he said.