With the passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012, Colorado made history and became one of the first two states to approve legal regulation of the cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Colorado has become a proving ground to demonstrate the positive impacts of regulation instead of prohibition – and hopefully will promote similar efforts elsewhere.
Despite warnings from legalization opponents, Colorado looks pretty much the same as ever since regulation, if not better. Crime is down, the economy is sound, and there remains strong overall support for legalization throughout the state. Even the state’s Director of Marijuana Coordination was quick to note recently that “the sky hasn’t fallen” since the first retail shops opened on January 1st.
Though it is far too early to make any definitive declarations about emerging social trends, there are some promising indications that things are moving in the right direction here in Colorado:
According to Uniform Crime Reporting data for Denver, there has been a 10.1% decrease in overall crime from this time last year and a 5.2% drop in violent crime.
The state has garnered over 10 million in taxes from retail sales in the first 4 months. The first 40 million of this tax revenue is earmarked for public schools and infrastructure, as well as for youth educational campaigns about substance use.
There are renewed efforts to study the medical efficacy of marijuana within the state, making Colorado an epicenter for marijuana research.
The marijuana industry has developed quickly, generating thousands of new jobs. It is estimated there are currently about 10,000 people directly involved with this industry, with 1,000 to 2,000 gaining employment in the past few months alone.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who opposed Amendment 64, recently compared Colorado’s economy since legalization to that of other states by noting, “While the rest of the country’s economy is slowly picking back up, we’re thriving here in Colorado.” For example, the demand for commercial real estate has increased drastically, with houses in the state appreciating up to 8.7 percent in the past year alone.
The voters of Colorado retain an overall positive view of the regulated marijuana market, with 54% of Colorado voters still supporting marijuana legalization and regulation, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.
By removing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related offenses, thousands of individuals will avoid the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. The state is estimated to potentially save $12-40 million over the span of a year simply by ending arrests for marijuana possession.
Despite a long history of government efforts to obstruct marijuana science, we now have decades of proof that the plant itself is far less harmful than its prohibition. Colorado and Washington have already changed the dialogue about drug prohibition throughout the U.S. and around the world – and I remain cautiously optimistic that our efforts in these states will continue to inform and encourage approaches to drug use grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.
Laura Pegram is a Colorado policy associate for the Drug Policy Alliance.
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