DENVER -- The world's first state-licensed marijuana retailers permitted to sell pot for recreational use opened for business in Colorado yesterday with long lines of customers, marking a new chapter in America's drug culture.
Roughly three dozen former medical marijuana dispensaries opened their doors as early as 8 a.m.
Hundreds of people, some from distant states and many huddling outside in the cold and snow for hours, lined up to be among the first buyers.
"This is an historic moment," Jacob Elliott, 31, a military contractor from Leesburg, Va., said in line outside the 3D Cannabis Center in Denver. "I never thought it would happen."
The highly anticipated New Year's Day opening launched an unprecedented commercial cannabis market that Colorado officials expect will ultimately gross $578 million in annual revenues, including $67 million in tax receipts for the state.
Possession, cultivation and private personal consumption of marijuana by adults for the sake of just getting high has already been legal in Colorado for more than a year under a state constitutional amendment approved by voters.
As of yesterday, however, cannabis was being legally produced, sold and taxed in a system modeled after a regime many states have in place for alcohol sales -- but which exists for marijuana nowhere in the world outside of Colorado.
Even in the Netherlands, where some coffee shops and nightclubs are widely known to sell cannabis products with the informal consent of authorities, back-end distribution of the drug to those businesses remains illegal.
Voters in Washington state voted to legalize marijuana at the same time Colorado did, in November 2012, but the first retail outlets won't open in that state until later this year.