Battleground Dispatches: New Pot Law Raises Questions for Sellers, Police

BY David Pelcyger and Mary Jo Brooks  November 16, 2012 at 5:20 PM EDT

What does legalizing marijuana mean for a dispensary owner? The NewsHour sat down with Steve Horwitz, owner of Ganja Gourmet in Denver, to get his perspective.

DENVER — When Coloradans legalized recreational marijuana on Election Day, they had a good idea what streets crowded with neon cannabis leaf signs and retail pot outlets would look like. Medical marijuana has been legal under state law for twelve years and the industry is a permanent presence. In Denver, for example, dispensaries outnumber Starbucks and McDonald’s combined.

Opinions vary widely on the legal, social and economic implications of Amendment 64, in many cases, because fundamental questions surround the disparities between state and federal law. Will all cities and towns permit pot sales? Will it be taxed? At what level? How will federal enforcement authorities react?

The retail picture is clearer. Medical marijuana dispensaries have established customer bases, sophisticated growing operations and are well-known to state authorities. Dispensary owners know their customers and what it takes to successfully compete in the marijuana market. They also are likely the first stores to be able to sell for recreational use, having completed the required paperwork for a medical license.

For perspective from law enforcement, the NewsHour also talked with Jerry Peters of the North Denver Drug Task Force.

Many law enforcement officers are not happy about the vote to legalize recreational marijuana. Jerry Peters is a commander with the North Denver Drug Task Force. He says he’s seen a dramatic increase in crime over the past four years since medical marijuana dispensaries have been permitted in Colorado. He believes the passage of Amendment 64 will only lead to an increase in violence, theft and drug trafficking. Already his task force averages five to six marijuana investigations a week. In addition to crime, Peters worries about the social costs of legalized marijuana including youth addiction, driving under the influence and increased workplace accidents.

View a slide show of marijuana operations and advocates in the U.S.