Tim Cullen gave up being a high school biology teacher to enter the marijuana business after he and his father were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He used his knowledge of botany to grow and harvest plants, which treated the condition and eased the pain, and built a business out of it.
By coincidence around the same time the TV show Breaking Bad depicted a fictional high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, morphing into a meth drug lord after being diagnosed with cancer.
Growing and selling pot for medicinal purposes was legal in Colorado but had a shadowy, seedy image. Cullen did not broadcast his career switch. “I didn’t tell former colleagues. I kept it to myself. I was afraid how people would judge – not necessarily me, I’ve a thick skin – but my son.”
That fear will melt on Wednesday when Colorado becomes the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise recreational cannabis sales, shining a sudden spotlight on Cullen and dozens of other retailers across the state.
“The genie is fully out of the bottle. If people don’t like it, well, I’m not going to care about it any more,” said Cullen, 41, as staff at his Denver store, Evergreen Apothecary, bustled in anticipation of new customers and regulatory challenges.
Sporting a blazer, striped shirt, jeans and loafers, he looked every inch the successful entrepreneur. Cullen said his son will have no reason to be ashamed as he grows up – unlike Breaking Bad’s family trauma. “It’ll be no big deal when he learns what dad does for a living.”
Supporters and opponents of Colorado’s initiative agree that Wednesday is the start of a rather big deal: a landmark challenge to decades of “drug war” dogma which is expected to embolden other states to follow suit, potentially heralding a shift as radical as the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933.
Colorado voted to allow recreational pot sales in a ballot initiative in the November 2012 general election, as did voters in Washington state. Uruguay also recently decided to legalise. As the first to put the law into practice the Rocky Mountain state is a laboratory commanding global attention. After Washington, activists in Alaska, Oregon and Nevada hope they will be next.
“This is a very momentous occasion. A huge milestone in the movement to end marijuana prohibition,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. In the Netherlands pot is tolerated, but not legal, a crucial distinction, he said. However many show up on Wednesday to buy recreational cannabis – estimates vary from dozens to thousands – they will be “part of history”, said Tvert. He praised state authorities for efficiently converting the voters’ verdict into nuts-and-bolt reality.
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