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Preparation for the retail market started more than a year ago, soon after Colorado voters in 2012 approved the legal pot industry. Washington state has its own version, which is scheduled to open in mid-2014. Uruguay passed a law in December to become the first nation to regulate pot.

Pot advocates, who had long pushed legalization as an alternative to the lengthy and costly global drug war, had argued it would generate revenue for state coffers and save money in locking up drug offenders.

Still, setting up regulations, taxation and oversight for a drug that’s never been regulated before took some time.

Colorado set up an elaborate plant-tracking system to try to keep the drug away from the black market, and regulators set up packaging, labeling and testing requirements, along with potency limits for edible pot.

The U.S. Justice Department outlined an eight-point slate of priorities for pot regulation, requiring states to keep the drug away from minors, criminal cartels, federal property and other states in order to avoid a federal crackdown. Pot is still illegal under federal law.

Denver International Airport placed signs on doors warning fliers they can’t take the drug home in their suitcases.

With the additional police patrols, the airport warnings and various other measures, officials hoped they have enough safeguards in place to avoid predictions of public health and safety harm from the opening of the pot shops.

There was no shortage of skeptics worried retail pot would endanger the public. A group of addiction counselors and physicians said they’re seeing more marijuana addiction problems, especially in youths, and that wider pot availability will exacerbate the problem.

“This is just throwing gas on the fire,” said Ben Cort of the Colorado Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Hospital.

Not all marijuana users in Colorado are toasting the dawn of retail sales.

Some medical marijuana patients groups say they’re worried about supply. That’s because the retail inventory for recreational use is coming entirely from the preexisting medical inventory. Many in the industry warned patients to stock up before the sales began.

It was too soon to tell whether prices were going up.

For now, medical patients should have plenty of places to shop. Most of Colorado’s 500 or so medical marijuana shops haven’t applied to sell recreational pot, and many that have plan to serve both recreational and medical patients

Marijuana activists were hoping Colorado’s grand experiment wouldn’t be that noticeable after an initial rush of shopping.

“Adults have been buying marijuana around this country for years,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The only difference is that in Colorado they will now buy it from legitimate businesses instead of the underground market.”

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