Retailers in the US state of Colorado newly licensed to sell recreational cannabis were preparing to open shop on so-called “Green Wednesday”.
Stores, including thirteen former medicinal marijuana dispensaries, are now able to sell the formerly illegal drug to customers interested in its recreational properties.
Proprietors were expected to open their doors at 8am local time in the capital Denver, and a handful of other locations, in anticipation of a surge in demand for store-bought weed.
In one part of the capital, a dispensary had set up a food truck for customers who had camped outside. Meanwhile, revellers ditched sweaters in the unusually balmy weather and alternated between celebrating with horn blowers, and joints and bongs.
State officials expect that the new industry will draw in annual revenues of $578 million, with $67 million coming from tax receipts alone.
While non-medicinal possession, cultivation and private consumption of marijuana was legalised in Colorado over a year ago, cannabis will only now be legally sold to the general public and taxed in a system similarly to alcohol.
Nowhere in the world outside of the northwest state shares this system.
Citizens in Washington state also voted to legalize marijuana at the same time as Colorado in 2012, but is not predicted to open stores until later in the year.
“We understand that Colorado is under a microscope,” Jack Finlaw, lawyer to Governor John Hickenlooper and overseer of a major task force to chart new pot laws, recently told reporters.
Both supporters and opponents to the legalisation of the drug see the two Western states as embarking on an experiment that could mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition at a national level.
Video: Colorado's first day of legal marijuana sales
“By legalizing marijuana, Colorado has stopped the needless and racially biased enforcement of marijuana prohibition laws,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Criminal Law Reform Project.
Opponents warned that legalizing recreational use could create an industry that would attract underage use and dependency.
Former US Representative and co-founder of Project Smart Approaches to Marijuana Patrick Kennedy, said his group aims to curtail marijuana advertising and to push local bans on the drug.
Authorities in Colorado appear to be heeding the call for caution, with signs around the state capital of Denver warning that cannabis shops can only operate during approved hours, and that public consumption of the drug remains illegal.
Additional reporting by agencies