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Highs and lows of ending marijuana prohibition

Marijuana plants under lights in the growing rooms at the Denver Discreet Dispensary. Colorado is the first state in the USA to legalise sales of the drug for recreational use.

Marijuana plants under lights in the growing rooms at the Denver Discreet Dispensary. Colorado is the first state in the USA to legalise sales of the drug for recreational use.

Users in Denver are stoked about the new law but business remains mellow over opportunities it will bring

The news outside Casselman's, a Denver bar and party venue, was delivered by a young man dressed in 1930s-style tweed and cap. "Prohibition is over," he shouted, welcoming men in fedoras and women with feather boas and "flapper" dresses.

They looked like they were celebrating the end of the alcohol ban in the United States in 1933, but the guests were actually marking an end to prohibition of the sale of marijuana. The organisers of the New Year's Eve party wanted a memorable event after years of pushing for liberalisation of "pot" sales.

The party took place in Denver, the capital of the Rocky Mountain state known as the Mile High City, a nickname given a new twist by the legalisation of marijuana. At Casselman's the prohibition partygoers celebrated by lighting pipes and rolling joints on the patio, which was curtained to block people outside from looking in.

While the law loosens sales, it doesn't allow smoking in public.

But Tuesday at midnight was the Colorado marijuana community's moment and the revellers didn't care about the finer points of the law.

"It's a little subdued," said a guest who identified himself only as Chris from Miami Beach, referring to the atmosphere on the patio. "I think everyone is just slipping into the rhythm of the night," he added through coughs after drawing on a bong.

"I wanted to be here on January 1 - historically," he continued. "It's always been a very subversive, underground thing, and now it's evolved to this."

Of the 200 or so people who attended the party, many were celebrating the business opportunities the new law presents and eager to see the marijuana trade get started.

The party's organisers, Brett Mouser and Dave Maddalena work for marijuana-related companies that can now move forward under the new law. Mouser's company, Mahatma, makes extreme concentrated marijuana products, while Maddalena's is a magazine, The Hemp Connoisseur.

It's definitely a marketable product," Mouser said. "You take out that element of being prosecuted and you're seeing entrepreneurs develop a lot of new things."

Mouser said it was an emerging industry that was exciting to be a part of because of what entrepreneurs are doing. Joshua Fink had some examples at a promotional table he manned during the party. His products are edibles made in a range of flavours in candy bar shapes with 100 milligrams of THC - the active ingredient in cannabis - part of the recipe.

But Tom Sterlacci, who also owns an edibles business, said no one will be getting rich on the cannabis trade anytime soon. "It's still a risky business because we are depending on people coming in to buy," he said.

Most of the vendors predicted more states would follow Colorado and end their bans on recreational sales.

But Mouser said one of the keys will be changing marijuana's classification in the eyes of the federal government. It remains classified with heroin, LSD and ecstasy by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a drug that has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse".

At this juncture Colorado's recreational marijuana users aren't mounting another effort to change policy.

Most are like Derek Medina, 35, of Denver who recognises there's been a "sea change" that brought marijuana out of the underground faster than almost anyone imagined. And that means when he wants to buy some pot he won't have to start by tracking down his dealer.






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