Colorado mulls lessons from 1st month of pot sales
DENVER (AP) — Colorado's marijuana experiment is going well, but there's a lot of work to do regulating the newly legal drug, state regulators and lawmakers said Monday in a panel reviewing successes and failures of the nation's first retail pot industry.
Colorado's top marijuana regulator, Department of Revenue head Barbara Brohl, said it's too soon to know how much tax revenue legal weed is going to produce, but that Colorado appears to have avoided major public safety problems, at least in the six weeks since marijuana sales began.
On Jan. 1, Colorado became the first state in the nation to allow legal retail sales of recreational marijuana. Washington state, where voters also legalized the drug in 2012, is expected to launch its marketplace in the coming months.
Brohl said other states and nations have asked how Colorado is regulating marijuana, from product safety to rules on how retailers market and sell pot.
"We've had to kind of duplicate a lot of the things the federal government does when it comes to regulation," Brohl said.
Jack Finlaw, a lawyer for Gov. John Hickenlooper who joined Brohl last year in writing marijuana proposals, said Colorado wasn't sure until August what the federal government planned to do about the state's pot law.
Finlaw said state officials asked the U.S. Department of Justice: "We've clearly done something new, are you going to let us proceed, are you going to shut this all down?"
There was no immediate answer, Finlaw said. In the absence of guidance, he said, Colorado just winged it — trying to anticipate what the federal government would require. When the DOJ's priorities were finally released, "they weren't dramatically surprising," Finlaw said.
But Colorado isn't done debating pot, all on the panel agreed.
Rep. Dan Pabon, a Denver Democrat who sponsored last year's pot regulatory bill, pointed out that alcohol prohibition ended in 1933, but alcohol bills are still routinely considered in the Legislature.
"This will take time," Pabon said on marijuana laws.
No one on the panel would guess how much tax money pot sales have produced in the first six weeks.
"That's the $64,000 question that everybody has been asking since Jan. 2," Brohl said with a smile.
The pot discussion came hours after a new poll showed Colorado's mixed feelings about the legal drug.
The Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday says that voters still support the state law that legalized recreational marijuana, but most believe it is hurting the image of the state.
The poll indicates that 51 percent of voters overall believe the measure is bad for the state's reputation, while 38 percent see it as a net positive.
Like other marijuana polls, the Colorado survey revealed a sharp age divide. Among voters 18 to 29, 57 percent say legal marijuana is good for the state's image. Among voters older than 65, 67 percent say it's bad.
Overall, 58 percent of people surveyed still support the law passed in 2012, the poll said.
The poll of 1,139 registered voters was taken from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to the report.