It’s been a little more than a year since the first recreational pot went on sale in Colorado. So what can we say so far? Is legalization working? Is the state’s experiment in marijuana reform here to stay?
As it turns out, yes. Yes it is.
Outside of legalization opponents, you’ll have a hard time finding anyone who thinks Colorado’s marijuana law has been a complete failure. The industry got off the ground without a hitch, and the state has seen none of the dire consequences predicted by opponents.
Between Jan. 1, 2014, when cannabis first went on sale, and the end of the year, the industry generated more than $60 million in taxes and licensing revenue for the state. Most of that money is destined for school construction projects as required by Amendment 64, the legalization initiative approved by voters in 2012.
Initial estimates predicted as much as $100 million, but those were later viewed as unrealistically optimistic. In any event, $60 million can pay for some major school building projects.
An all-round success
Even more important than what happened as a result of legalization, however, is what didn’t happen. The black market didn’t muscle into the legitimate market. The state didn’t spend another $145 million in yearly cannabis enforcement costs. And no one died.
The experience hasn’t been without problems. Two deaths, a suicide and a murder, were linked to edible marijuana overdoses, though the weed didn’t actually cause the deaths.
But lawmakers quickly responded with new rules for the edibles market, including clearer labeling and portioning directions. Most marijuana overdoses involve edibles, which can contain multiple doses in a single piece of food.
Recreational will outpace medical
Many recreational stoners still use Colorado’s medical marijuana market because it’s cheaper than recreational pot and easy to get. Even so, MMJ sales dropped 17 percent over the year. Medical still outsells recreational, but the picture is changing, just as cannabis advocates have said it would.
The problems encountered so far have all been relatively minor. Crime rates haven’t climbed; if anything, they’re still falling. And there was no rash of teenage weed consumption following legalization.
There also hasn’t been any evidence that Colorado’s drivers are more impaired than they were before 2012. Pot opponents have long pointed to evidence that marijuana plays an increasing role in highway crashes. This is true, but it ignores the fact that the number of traffic fatalities has been falling anyway.
In other words, some researchers say, more motorists are toking instead of drinking. Rather than hit the bar, as they would do while drinking, many of these drivers stay home. And if they do get behind the wheel, they’re generally much safer than drunk drivers – though still dangerous.
Most importantly, though, legalization is doing what it was designed to do. Stoners can legally buy pot at stores across the state instead of paying shady criminals to get it for them. And that means fewer people are getting arrested, fewer people are going to jail, and fewer people are facing the lifelong stigma of a criminal record.
We’d call that a big win.