Colorado issues first batch of recreational pot sales licenses

Retail shops, marijuana growers and cannabis bakers across the state received the documents Friday

Marijuana plants growing at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver. Medicine Man was among the first group of Denver businesses that received their licenses allowing them to legally sell recreational pot.
Brennan Linsley/AP

Something that might really blow your mind, man — marijuana will be legally sold in the U.S. 

When the first cannabis retail licenses were given out in Denver on Friday, applause broke out as business owners took pictures and said they never thought they would see the day when they would get a permit to sell pot.

"I think it's about time that adults can imbibe in marijuana," Donald Andrews told The Associated Press. Andrews works at one of the eight Denver shops, LoDo Wellness Center, that received a license. 

Recreational cannabis has been legal in Colorado, for adults over 21, since voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in November 2012, but retail sales of the drug won't be allowed until 8 a.m. on Jan. 1.

Denver's Department of Excise and Licenses issued more than 40 retail licenses to cannabis growers and certain shop owners Friday, and additional retailers across the state said they received their licenses in the mail.

Denver is one of 19 municipalities and seven counties in Colorado that will allow recreational pot. 

A few hours from Denver in the quaint Rocky Mountain town of Breckenridge, retailers were also celebrating.

"We got our state and town licenses in the mail today," Lauren Hoover, assistant manager at Breckenridge Cannabis Club, told Al Jazeera.

Only existing medical marijuana businesses will be allowed to make the transition to recreational sales in the new year. 

Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division has approved 348 marijuana business licenses so far. 

"These are big businesses that have been operating in good standing in our city for a long time," Amber Miller, spokeswoman for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, told the AP.

Supplying the demand

Colorado's new law legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana will not allow for Amsterdam-style cafes — at least not any time soon.

In Breckenridge, Hoover said it "it will be retail only ...we're pretty disappointed, but it was decided in January not to allow cafes for the next year or so."

Still unclear is what the morning of Jan. 1 will look like. Some shop owners are planning to install purchasing caps and other limits to try to avoid a run on weed.

"We really expect to have a whole different market," Justin Williams, one of the owners of Alpenglow Botanicals, a medical marijuana dispensary in Breckenridge, told Al Jazeera.

Williams said he thinks "supplying the demand" will be the biggest challenge when his shop opens Wednesday. 

"We're in a pretty accepting part of the country ... even if they don't smoke it they realize it has benefits. If anything, it's a healthier alternative to other substances."

Alpenglow Botanicals will continue to function as a medical dispensary and a retail store, which means they will sell weed grown for specific health needs as well as recreational marijuana for adults over 21.

The biggest difference between the two is how they are taxed. Williams said customers with medical marijuana cards will pay less because that medical sales are taxed at a much lower rate.

In November, Colorado voters approved sales and excise taxes of 25 percent on recreational weed compared to state sales tax rates of under 10 percent for medical marijuana purchases.

Shops issued licenses were given red posters Friday and stacks of fliers instructing cannabis customers on marijuana limits, including the fact that users can't consume pot in public, drive high or take it out of the state.

Washington, the only other state to allow recreational pot use by adults, plans to have stores open by late spring of next year. 

Al Jazeera and wire services. With additional reporting by Renee Lewis.

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