The first licences in the United States that permit retailers to sell marijuana for recreational use from 1 January were issued in Colorado on Friday.

Owners of cannabis dispensaries lined up to collect the permits in Denver: an initial batch of 42 licences were issued, most to growers but around a dozen to shops.

Colorado voters approved a new law during the November 2012 general election that would expand the state’s laws allowing the production and sale of medical marijuana to cover recreational uses.

The owner of a Denver-based chain of medical marijuana dispensaries who wants to expand and sell pot to leisure consumers, Shawn Phillips, was first in line on Friday morning.

Mr. Phillips’s business, called Strainwise, will be able to sell cannabis to adults for both medical and purely recreational use from New Year’s Day.

The state already licences more than 500 medical marijuana dispensaries, and only those outlets may apply to sell it for recreational use. State authorities have already approved 348 recreational sale licences but businesses also require a local licence, the first of which were those issued in Denver on Friday.

A festive atmosphere took over at the normally staid city licensing office in Denver on Friday as Mr. Phillips was joined by Donald Andrews, co-owner of the Medicine Man dispensary in downtown Denver and other retailers with names such as Dixie Elixirs and Dank Colorado.

The Medicine Man offers strains of cannabis called Death Star, Cherry Slider and Ear Wax Hash, among dozens of others, and the company’s website touts its organic credentials, competitive prices and proximity to downtown eateries for customers experiencing “the munchies.”

Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division spokeswoman Julie Postlethwait explained that the laws do not permit consumption of marijuana in public in any form nor on the premises of dispensaries in California-style pot cafes. “You buy it and take it to your private property to consume,” she said.

After voters approved recreational sale and use, the state legislature drew up the details of the laws and passed the necessary legislation last June, to come into force on 1 January 2014. Local authorities have been able to pass bans or temporary stays following the laws in their town or county, pending further local votes or any legal challenges.

The mountain town of Boulder initially decided on a local ban on the sale of marijuana for recreational use despite the town having several medical dispensaries, but has since relented. The ski resort of Breckenridge decriminalised the possession of small amounts of cannabis and consumption in private for recreational use several years ago. That decriminalisation will now apply across the state, regardless of whether local towns or counties ban the actual sale of the substance in their area by refusing to issue local growing or sale licences.

The sale and possession of cannabis is still prohibited in Colorado by federal law, for either medical or recreational use, putting the state in a head-on clash with Washington. But there is no evidence yet that the federal authorities plan to enforce the law in areas that have voted to relax it. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

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