Regulation of Recreational Marijuana for Adult Use in Colorado – Developing a Model for Safe and Effective Marijuana Legalization

After a historic 2012 ballot initiative victory, Colorado has ended nearly a century of marijuana prohibition and is leading the nation towards broad taxation and regulation of marijuana for adult use. The Drug Policy Alliance has been an integral voice in the development of sane, effective, and conscionable marijuana regulations. We continually monitor emerging policies surrounding both medical and retail marijuana throughout the state to ensure implementation is reasonable, fair, and most importantly, makes good on campaign promises: to reduce marijuana-related drug arrests and collateral consequences, create a viable and regulated marketplace, and reduce youth access by reducing underground sales. Our efforts in Colorado will provide a model for taxing and regulating marijuana that will be replicable domestically and globally.

Once the initiative passed DPA immediately went to work to ensure those between the ages of 18-20 would not become the new and sole targets of marijuana prohibition efforts in Colorado.  The city of Denver has now instituted civil fines for this age group and we are involved on the state level to institute a uniform system of mandatory diversion focusing on education instead of criminalization for young people regarding marijuana use and possession.

Advancing Harm Reduction

Over the past several years, the Drug Policy Alliance, in coalition with several community partners, has lobbied for the successful passage of evidence-based, public health interventions that lessen barriers to essential social services, reduce drug user stigma, and prevent needless overdose deaths.  As a result, the state now has a 911 Good Samaritan law, access to the overdose antidote, naloxone, and legal syringe availability through registered service providers. These and future health-based approaches will help reduce the harms associated with both, drug use and misuse, and the detrimental drug policies of our past. The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to creating spaces that promote open dialogue surrounding drug use and misuse issues and aims to shift current paradigms from a criminal justice to a public health approach.

Expanding the Reach of Public Health

Colorado has begun to reverse the excesses of the drug war and its impact on the mass arrest and incarceration of low-level drug offenders. It is essential to raise the voice of health care professionals to balance the dominant role law enforcement plays in determining drug policy. Through our partnership with the University Of Colorado School Of Public Health we hosted a New Directions conference that featured experts from Canada, Portugal, and the United States to address Colorado attendees, primarily representing public health, human services, and harm reduction agencies.  Continuing to build meaningful and productive relationships with these communities and state agencies also working on drug policy issues is a constant priority and will be invaluable as we further ground breaking drug policy reforms in the coming years.

Lessening the Collateral Consequences of Drug Violations

Often, the consequences of low-level drug arrests far outweigh the impact of drug misuse itself. The Drug Policy Alliance works to ensure that the collateral consequences many face in Colorado do not guarantee perpetual second-class citizenship and the inability to escape the labels and stereotypes of having been a ‘drug offender’. Colorado must address the negative impact past and current drug policies have on successful re-entry for the formerly incarcerated and develop alternative solutions that address these collateral consequences in order to create environments conducive to change.