As of Jan. 1, a new dawn rose in Colorado. A hazy, red-eyed dawn crowned with euphoria and edged with the nagging worry that something could go wrong at any minute.
Marijuana was officially legal on New Year’s Day. It definitely rang in a new era in American drug policy.
But you don’t care about that. You want the pot! So here are seven things you should know about cannabis in Colorado now that you can hit the streets looking for the best ounce of legal Kush in town.
1. What “Legal” Means, Exactly
It means pretty darn legal. In Colorado, it is now kosher to buy, possess, grow, transfer and consume small amounts of pot. If you have a license, you can grow larger amounts and sell it on the retail market.
That doesn’t cover every base, unfortunately. Marijuana – all marijuana – is still illegal under federal law. This means you could, in theory, be arrested by federal agents for buying, possessing, growing, transferring and consuming the same pot. And federal law takes primacy over state law, so your pleas that you were protected by Colorado statute will do you no good in federal court.
Thankfully, it probably won’t get that far for you. The U.S. Department of Justice has said it won’t interfere with states that legalize, or with the businesses that provide weed in those states, as long as certain federal priorities are enforced – such as keeping pot away from kids. And President Obama has long said he sees no point in using federal resources to go after marijuana users.
2. Who Can Use It
Anyone over the age of 21 can use and buy cannabis in Colorado. Only the minors who are eligible under the state’s medical marijuana law are allowed to use pot, and that involves a rigorous selection process and oversight.
On its face, the law is somewhat unfair. Users over the age of 21 face no state-level consequences, while minors who are caught with marijuana are processed by the juvenile justice system. But users between the ages of 18 and 21 face up to a year in jail. The Denver City Council recently passed an ordinance to decriminalize possession for these people in the city.
3. Where to Get It
As of New Year’s Day, you can buy weed from any of 42 pot shops operating across the state. There will be hundreds more, but these are the few that made it through the approval process fast enough to open Jan. 1.
None of these businesses are new. Only existing medical marijuana dispensaries can convert to retail pot shops during the first several months of the program. Later, newcomers can seek licenses.
Of course, you can also grow your own or ask a friend to share, just as long as no money changes hands between you.
4. How Much You’re Allowed to Have
There’s a limit to the amount you can buy or possess at any given time. That makes legal cannabis unique from alcohol and cigarettes, which can be bought in any quantity.
You can buy up to one ounce if you live in Colorado. If you come from elsewhere, you can buy up to a quarter ounce. And you can grow up to six plants in your home, as long as you have the permission of the property owner and the plants are enclosed and locked away.
5. Where You Can Use It
Weed can only be used on private property. Its use is banned in all public places, including the 16th Street Mall, a favorite Denver hangout for stoners. You can’t even use it in pot shops.
But you can use it on private property that’s visible to the public. The Denver City Council briefly tried to ban porch and backyard smoking, but the policy died after police said they didn’t want to enforce it and opponents complained it would interfere with basic property rights.
6. Where You Can’t Use It
There are two big things you can’t do with your pot, at least as far as the law is concerned. You can’t drive high, and you can’t take the weed out of Colorado.
The state has a special DUI law for marijuana: If your blood registers more than 5 nanograms of active THC, you could be convicted of stoned driving and face the same penalties you would for drunk driving.
And while Colorado authorities may not be able to stop you from taking small amounts of pot over the state line into Wyoming or Utah, say, you can be sure their counterparts in those states will do their best.
7. What if the Next President Hates Weed?
This is the great unknown. Marijuana law now looks headed in an inevitable arc toward nationwide legalization. But that may take a long time, and political setbacks are always possible along the way.
What’s really needed to ensure the safety of weed lovers in Colorado and elsewhere is federal legislation removing the drug from its restrictive classification as a dangerous controlled substance. But the appetite for reform is nonexistent in Washington, D.C., Obama’s hands-off approach notwithstanding.
For now, smokers and tokers in the Centennial State will have to count their blessings that times have changed as much as they have. That, roll up a fat blunt, and join the scene on the happiest days American stoners have seen in, well, ever.