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Colorado legalized recreational pot 10 years ago. Here's how the industry has grown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Colorado becoming the first state to legally allow marijuana sales for recreational use. It's now a multibillion-dollar industry. Colorado Public Radio's Ben Markus reports.

(CROSSTALK)

BEN MARKUS, BYLINE: New Year's Day 2014 - dozens of journalists crowded into a dispensary in Denver to witness the first sale. There were too many cameras for the small space, so the store owner had a plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TONI FOX: OK, so we're going to run through the sale one more time for those of you that could not get the pictures previously.

MARKUS: So the first sale was actually done twice.

CHRISTIAN SEDERBERG: I think there was, like, almost, like, a physical altercation between a couple of guys holding cameras. I won't name any names.

MARKUS: That's Christian Sederberg. He was part of the campaign to legalize cannabis. Across Denver at Colorado Harvest Company, the line was long all day. Tim Cullen, the owner, said he heard some people grumbling, and an older customer interrupted them.

TIM CULLEN: And he turns around, and he says, hey man, I don't care if we wait three hours. I have been waiting for 62 years for this to happen, and here it is.

MARKUS: Since that day, customers have purchased about $12 billion of legal marijuana in Colorado. The tax revenue from it has not solved budget woes, but it does fund things like construction of schools and rec centers. And marijuana possession arrests have dropped 71%. Before legalization, residents had to get paperwork from a doctor to buy cannabis for specific medical conditions. Colorado's then governor and now U.S. senator, John Hickenlooper, didn't want recreational use legalized, but he's come around.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: I was worried about the downsides that were widely predicted by experts, that this would lead to a dramatic increase in experimentation and consumption and frequency by young people.

MARKUS: A federal government survey says youth marijuana use has declined here since legalization. Still, kids in Colorado use more than their peers across the U.S., and cannabis opponents remain worried about high potency marijuana and candy flavors. But it's hard to imagine going back. Nationwide, recreational cannabis is now legal in 34 states, bringing in $15 billion in tax revenue over the last decade. Again, store owner Tim Cullen.

CULLEN: You know, fast forward 10 years and you have almost half the country with some form of recreational legalization, almost the entire country has some form of medical. CBD has swept the country as well. And it's a vastly different landscape than where we were 10 years ago.

MARKUS: And Cullen says the sky did not fall, as some predicted.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Markus in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: January 1, 2024 at 11:00 PM CST
In the audio and transcript of this story we incorrectly say "recreational cannabis is now legal in 34 states," which is incorrect. The actual number its 24 states.
Ben Markus - Colorado Public Radio