With legal marijuana spreading across the country like wildfire, it’s worth asking how this incredible experiment in drug reform has worked out. Four years after the first vote to legalize pot, where do things stand?
Here’s a brief look at the state of legalized marijuana in Colorado, where voters legalized the drug in November 2012 (as did voters in Washington State, while Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia followed in 2014).
There’s no doubt cannabis is widely used in Colorado, and the drug has long since lost its back-alley reputation there. Pot shops dot the landscape now, while the state’s mountains and open ranges are home to countless legal cannabis farms, indoor and out.
The pot industry still has plenty of room for growth in Colorado, but it has already flooded public coffers with millions of dollars in new tax revenue. Still, cannabis reform hasn’t exactly revolutionized life in the Centennial State.
Many communities, especially small towns in struggling areas, have rebounded from long economic droughts with the help of legalized marijuana. Some of these places don’t even allow local sales, only cultivation, yet make significant amounts of tax money off the industry.
Coloradans agree their experiment in drug policy has worked well, with recent polls showing support for the 2012 vote remains strong. But it hasn’t saved everyone, and even some localities that could benefit from pot refuse to allow it.
The most notable difference for most Colorado stoners since 2012 is the rapid growth in social acceptance of their habit. While it’s still hard to find places to use marijuana openly, that’s changing.
Denver could soon allow members-only cannabis clubs, while bed-and-breakfasts and Airbnb rentals increasingly advertise toke-friendly accommodations. More importantly, though, is the fact that most locals wouldn’t look twice at a pothead ripping from a bong on the steps outside city hall.
But the line between pro-pot and anti-pot communities can be sharp in Colorado. Stoners who draw no attention along Denver’s Green Mile could wind up in jail for public consumption a few towns over.
The most important consequence of legalization is that far fewer people are arrested and prosecuted on cannabis charges. Fewer arrests means less jail time and fewer permanent rap sheets, which in turn means less harm to the racial minority groups that face disproportionate conviction rates.
At a more general level, there is also the widespread sense that life is a bit more liberated in Colorado. Ask Meghann St. Nolde, a Wisconsin transplant to Denver who said she came looking for “cannabis freedom.”
“It’s like we’re living history every day,” St. Nolde said.
That doesn’t mean anything is possible, however. It is still a civil offense to smoke marijuana in public, and possession of any amount of cannabis on federal land is a federal crime, no matter the intended use.
Leave a comment and let us know: How do you think legalization has played out in Colorado? Has success there been enough to push reform forward in other parts of the country?