DENVER - Proprietors of the first marijuana retailers licensed to sell pot for recreational use in Colorado were busy rolling joints and stocking up their leafy merchandise ahead of a grand opening on Wednesday that marks a new chapter in America's drug culture.
Thirteen former medical marijuana dispensaries newly cleared by state regulators to sell pot to consumers who are interested in nothing more than its mind-and mood-altering properties were slated to begin welcoming customers as early as 8 a.m. local time.
When they do, they will be launching an unprecedented commercial cannabis market that Colorado officials expect will ultimately gross $578 million in annual revenues, including $67 million in tax receipts for the state.
Possession, cultivation and private personal consumption of marijuana by adults for the sake of just getting high has already been legal in Colorado for more than a year under a state constitutional amendment approved by voters.
But starting New Year's Day, cannabis will be legally produced, sold to the general public and taxed in a system modeled after a regime many states have in place for alcohol sales - but which exists for marijuana nowhere in the world outside of Colorado.
Due to the novelty factor, operators of the first group of retailers slated to open their doors in the Denver area and a handful of other locations were anticipating a surge in demand for store-bought weed.
Inside a warehouse tucked away in the blue-collar Denver suburb of Northglenn, a trio of workers were feverishly rolling hundreds of marijuana cigarettes by hand in preparation for the onslaught.
"We expect to have 2,000 joints ready to go by the time we open," said Robin Hackett, 51, co-owner of Botana Care, who said she expects between 800 to 1,000 customers to patronize her store the first day.
The store has hired a private security firm to help with traffic and parking issues that might arise.
Hackett said she has 50 lbs (23 kg) of product on hand, and to avoid a supply shortage the shop will limit purchases to quarter-ounces on Wednesday, including joints, raw buds or cannabis-infused edibles such as pastries or candies.
A quarter-ounce sampler packet with seven strains of weed labelled with names such as "King Tut Kush" and "Gypsy Girl" - each said to produce a different kind of high - will retail for $85 to $90, including tax, Hackett said.