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Le Monde, France

The United States of Marijuana

By Corine Lesnes

Translated By Meredith O'Connell

26 December 2012

Edited by Gillian Palmer

France - Le Monde - Original Article (French)

You could call it a dream job: being a marijuana critic. Each week William Breathes publishes a report of his cannabis tastings in the Denver, Colorado magazine Westword, in which one learns that there's not just one type of marijuana but many, all bearing exotic names: Pineapple Express, Purple Passion (no Pink Elephant, but White Rhino's there too).

"Breathes" — a pen name — became the first marijuana critic in the U.S. in 2010. He critiqued medical marijuana, Colorado being one of the 18 states that has authorized the drug for therapeutic means. In one of his first critiques, William Breathes confessed to his own surprise at being paid to "get high" and get his daily tasting expenses covered. However, the job does come with responsibilities. "I've got real deadlines and real editors who will not sign my real paychecks if I miss said deadlines," he assured. For Christmas the journalist made a list of gift suggestions. At the top: an electronic joint the size of a pen (you can find it at the site gotvapes.com).

Medical marijuana has been a great success in Colorado, a state with a good health record — the obesity rate is one of the lowest in the country. More than 107,000 "patients" obtained a card giving them the right to consume [marijuana], and now there are more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks.

Sales are estimated at $200 million (around 150 million euros) this year — including several million for the fiscal administration as it grows, whether or not the justice system likes it. Suppliers had the presence of mind to work with the authorities to eliminate any black sheep — licenses cost $18,000 and help finance the special division put in place by the government.

Seeing the success of medical marijuana, Colorado took the next step and on Nov. 6 legalized — at the same time as Washington state — the possession of one ounce of marijuana. The vote passed by a margin of 250,000 votes, more than Barack Obama's advance over his Republican rival Mitt Romney during the presidential campaign.

Democratic governor John Hickenlooper acted on the decision and announced the law regulating marijuana as alcohol is, without hiding [the fact that] its application was going to be complicated. "That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug," he warned, "so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly" — which smokers love munching on.

Ever since, a sort of clamor has settled in. Local police pointed out that they're not directly supposed to put federal laws in effect. But in the counties which voted against legislation, prosecutors refused to abandon the pursuit. Several municipalities took action early and forbid sales, while [still] authorizing residents to grow six plants in an enclosed area. The Obama administration is walking on eggshells. In its sole commentary on the subject, the president — himself a big smoker during his adolescence in Hawaii — didn't seem in a hurry to cave. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” he said. And Americans agree: 64 percent believe that the federal government should not meddle with local legislation.

In Denver things are already at the next step: regulation. According to law, buyers and consumers must be 21 or older. Just like tobacco, it's illegal to smoke in public places and, like alcohol, to drive under the influence; a proposed law sets this at five nanograms of THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive ingredient — per milliliter of blood. Starting January, Colorado's assembly is going to study ways of market regulation; perhaps it will limit the amount of THC permitted. What about transporting [it]? Aviation security officials have indicated that travelers can take on board their personal stash, but only if they're going to Colorado or Washington state.

The idea of legislation has led to a "green" gold rush. There's a business side, with businessmen in their suits and ties and holdings at the stock exchange. It's "tomorrow's bubble," says Newsweek, which was able to visit the warehouses in the Denver suburbs where marijuana is grown under artificial light — with classical music or hard rock, whatever works best for the plants. There's nothing hippie about it; the varieties have special vintage names like "Reserva Privada." Dispensaries showcase weed in transparent jars placed on white-tiled counters. In one of these "pot palaces," as much centers of relaxation as they are fine grocery stores, one can buy chocolate bars, cereal, hot dogs, all types of munchies. And a pot drink: Dixie Elixirs — eight flavors, from peach to pomegranate.



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