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Legal pot: Lessons learned from Colorado

Updated: Friday, May 2 2014, 04:18 PM EDT

Denver -- Inside 3D Cannabis Center in downtown Denver, you find what many New Yorkers either want or fear: marijuana, in nearly all imaginable forms.

"It's inspirational," said Christie Lunsford, director of operations for 3D Cannabis Center, which made the first pot sale on Jan. 1, the day the sale of marijuana for recreational use became legal in Colorado.

State Rep. Dan Pabon, a Democrat, was not looking forward to that day.

"I voted no on the ballot initiative and was very concerned when it passed," Pabon said.

Looking back, Pabon said Colorado ensured complete legalization when it first allowed the sale of medicinal marijuana.

"That was certainly the case in Colorado," he said. "People saw the medicinal, saw the dispensaries and thought recreational might not be so bad. That's why the people of Colorado decided to vote for it."

Mason Tvert, who promotes legalization through the Marijuana Policy Project, had the same takeaway.

"It's not so much a causal relationship as it is a matter of evolution if you will," Tvert said. "People come to recognize it shouldn't be a crime for someone who is seriously ill ... and then recognize it shouldn't be a crime for any adult to use marijuana as long as they're doing it responsibly."

In arguing for legalization in New York state, which is inching closer to green-lighting medicinal marijuana, Tvert pointed to advantages such as tax revenue.

"The regulation and taxation of marijuana for medical and broader adult use is generating millions of dollars in tax revenue, providing jobs and business for countless other industries like accountants and contractors and so on," Tvert said.

Opponents, however, said the financial gain comes at too great a cost.

According to the Associated Press, legal marijuana has not stopped the black market.

"It has done nothing more than enhance the opportunity for the black market," Lt. Mark Comte of Colorado Springs police said to the AP. "If you can get it tax free on the corner, you're going to get it on the corner."

But even Pabon said it's too early to draw any conclusions on the link between the legalization of pot and crime. Tvert agreed.

"Marijuana has been criminalized for decades, so the criminal element is not going to disappear overnight," he said.

People like Mike Medina, who lives in Denver, are still not sold.

"I think it's really ugly what's happened here in Colorado," he said. "My biggest concern is the message we give to young people. For those on the fence about whether to experiment with drugs or not, this says, 'Go ahead and do it. It's legal; society has accepted this.'"

Legal pot: Lessons learned from Colorado

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