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Mountain News: Now that pot's legal in Colorado, who's next?

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DENVER, Colo. — Monday, April 20 was the annual holiday for marijuana enthusiasts, and in Denver, arguably the centre for the world's legalization movement, those gathered were observant when 4:20 p.m. arrived.

Giant clouds of smoke billowed from the crowd that had gathered at the annual Cannabis Cup sponsored by High Times magazine. Of course, smoke had been much in abundance the entire afternoon at the Denver Mart, a convention centre with hundreds of vendors selling everything from pipes to T-shirts to better lighting systems for grow operations.

It's still illegal to publicly consume cannabis in Colorado, but the law is enforced with some restraint. Besides, how are you going to enforce a law at a gathering like that? A sheriff's deputy directing traffic on a nearby street said that attendance was estimated at 65,000 on Saturday, April 18, the first day of the festival, and the crowd looked even bigger on Monday.

The event drew a diversity of people: fat and skinny, young — but at least 21 — and old, white, black, yellow and brown skins; crew cuts and dreadlocks and, on one tall man, hair long enough to shine his shoes.

"Denver: Center of the Cannaverse," said one T-shirt. Washington State has been following at a more restrained pace, and now Alaska and Oregon voters have chosen to follow in these footsteps. Washington D.C. is pursuing a different path of legalization, one that emphasizes grow-your-own.

As people vaped and lit blunts outside, speakers at forums talked about what comes next.

Ballot issues are being readied in Arizona, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts. Legislators in some other states are working up proposed legalization laws.

"If California legalizes it, it's over," said Russ Belville, who does a daily two-hour show on 420 Radio, which calls itself the NPR of THC.

What would be over, he explained, is the national policy of prohibition. The U.S. government took the first steps to ban marijuana in 1937, just a few years after legalizing alcohol, and then stepped up the ban in 1970 by making it a Schedule 2 controlled substance under federal laws.

Belville displayed a chart showing that more than two million people have been imprisoned under the laws. "Mostly black and Latino men," he said.

Keith Stroup, an attorney who in 1970 founded NORML, the advocacy organization, pointed to a key challenge for cannabis reformers. He said that in 1969, polls showed just 12 per cent of Americans favoured legalization. Now, it's 53 per cent — and even higher in some polls.

But Stroup said that they favour legalization because they can see the failure of prohibition. Two-thirds of Americans have an unfavourable opinion of marijuana users. "They see us as slackers, people without ambition who spend our days on the sofa."

The key, he added, is to provide the science about marijuana use to non-smokers, "because they hold the key."

"We have passed the tipping point, but marijuana smokers must be responsible in how they pursue it and how they present it," he said.

And after the United States? Other countries took their cues from the U.S. in making marijuana illegal, and the reverse will be true, too, speakers said.

How can this legalization wave be messed up? Greed, answered Mason Travert, who co-wrote Colorado's constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis and is now working on efforts nationally. He suggested that tracking of goods, packaging and other means of assuring the public must be accepted by THC providers.

But there is also concern about the effect of big money. Derisive mention was made of "big tobacco" and of the "boozers," and fears that giant corporate interests will try to take over what is essentially a supply chain somewhat akin to craft breweries.

Outside, among the tents, where people were lining up to pay "donations" in exchange for hits, very little tobacco and virtually no alcohol was evident. Cannabists are interested in good health. At one session, there was even discussion about how to avoid refined sugar when creating edibles.

Small avalanche kills skier

BIG SKY, Mont. — Again comes news of the death of a backcountry skier who was both experienced and conservative in his decision-making. Nor was the avalanche that caught 28-year-old Jens Hagen Anderson a large one as he skied down a couloir in the Madison Range of Montana. However, it was enough to sweep him over cliffs, and he died of trauma, reports Big Sky's Lone Peak Lookout.

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