TOPICS > Nation

How Colorado is regulating its retail pot sales

January 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
The new year ushered in Colorado's first day of legal retail sales of pot. Ricardo Baca, the first ever marijuana editor at the Denver Post, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the details of the law, how its measures are -- or are not -- being enforced and what it means for the culture at large.

HARI SREENIVASAN: For more on how the new pot law is being rolled out and received, we turn to Ricardo Baca, who is the first ever marijuana editor at The Denver Post. He is also editor of The Cannabist, the paper’s Web site devoted to the subject.

So, Mr. Baca, first off, what’s the difference? Yesterday, I could get a prescription. I could go into a dispensary in Denver and get it. Today, how significant is this shift?

RICARDO BACA, The Denver Post: It’s massive when you really think about it. And people really showed out in droves.

 It was such a trip to drive around the city and just check out the different scenes at the different shops, you know. Almost 40 of these shops opened throughout the state today. So wherever you went, you always found a line of some sort. Maybe it was 10 people right as they were getting opened and in some cases hundreds of people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So how different is a dispensary vs. a retail store? Or are some doing both?

RICARDO BACA: Yes, actually, in order to do retail pot right now in Colorado, the law dictates that you actually have to have done medical pot.

So the only people who are doing retail right now are the people who have done medical, and in many situations they’re doing it in the same location.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So we listed some of the regulations. But what are still in place to make sure that this doesn’t get into the hands of children or that it’s not trafficked across state lines?

RICARDO BACA: Yes, you know, the packaging for retail pot has been a very big issue.

Whatever you buy, it has to come into this — it comes in a sealed bag, as well as, if you are buying edibles, they have to be more clearly marked as medicine, as adult content, so kids will hopefully know that they’re not supposed to be able to touch that.

In terms of it crossing state lines, it’s just — it’s an ongoing issue that I know the state patrol of Colorado and all of the surrounding states are taking very seriously.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what sort of enforcement is there likely to be? Is the TSA likely to check people’s bags as they come into the airport for pot?

RICARDO BACA: You know, we certainly have been reporting on that story as well in the last week. And it’s fascinating seeing the stickers go up on the DIA doors saying it’s not welcome anywhere, because, previously, it was legal, and it was OK to have pot inside the airport, so long as you didn’t go through security.

So in terms of how hands-on the TSA agents will be, you know, that remains to be seen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So is it true that each individual is entitled to buy up to an ounce if they are a state resident per day? Isn’t that an enormous amount, past personal consumption?

RICARDO BACA: It is an enormous — it is a very large amount.

And if you have an out-of-state license, you can purchase up to a quarter-ounce, or a passport, you can get a quarter-once still. And there is some controversy related to that, because if you — say — it’s completely unregulated in the sense that they’re not keeping track of your driver’s license. So if you wanted to get an ounce at this shop and an ounce at the next shop and an ounce at the next shop, you can, because it’s basically like walking into a liquor store.

They’re not checking your — they’re checking your I.D., but they’re not dictating what exactly you purchased. They’re not keeping tabs.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So you mentioned — you mentioned a little of this, but how widespread is this? I know there is an area in Denver. You have sort of affectionately termed it Broadsterdam off of Broadway.

But are there communities around the state who are choosing not to have these retail stores or dispensaries in their areas?

RICARDO BACA: There are, yes.

The state law leaves it up to the local municipality. So that part is interesting, when you look at the cities, the county that allow it and the cities and counties that don’t. In fact, we had a really fascinating piece in The Post just a couple weeks ago about one of the university towns up in Northern Colorado. It’s Greeley.

And, you know, after prohibition through the mid-’60s, you couldn’t buy liquor anywhere in Greeley. So at that time, residents of Greeley went into a neighboring very small town called Garden City to get their liquor. Now Greeley is not allowing any pot whatsoever. And in order to get medical or recreational, you have to go over to Garden City again. History is repeating itself in Northern Colorado.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, I want to ask you a little bit about The Denver Post’s decision to put you in this slot, to actually have a team covering this.

What is the function of having a marijuana editor or this separate section on the site?

RICARDO BACA: Yes, the whole idea is, we have covered marijuana as a news topic since it was legalized medically in 2000 and the dispensary boom in 2009.

But now that it’s been recreationally legal for a year and now that shops are opening, we wanted to be able to be a part of the largest cultural conversation. So, basically, we wanted to be able to hire a pot critic and have that person talk about different strains and edibles and products from a very educated point of view.

We have a woman writing recipes for us, soups, cakes, cannabutter, all of that kind of stuff. So, we’re out there just talking about this as a part of our culture. It’s not unlike, you know, going out and buying a nice Malbec. You buy that Malbec maybe to relax with, to cook with, to maybe get silly with.

And it’s the same thing with weed now in Colorado.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And so is there a concern that having this much coverage ends up looking like advocacy for or against a particular law or legalization?

RICARDO BACA: There’s certainly outside concerns. But we’re confident in our journalistic integrity and approach. And we’re taking it very seriously.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Ricardo Baca, thanks so much for joining us.

RICARDO BACA: Thank you so much.