In November 2000, voters in Colorado passed Amendment 20, which enabled patients and their caregivers to obtain a restricted amount of marijuana from medical dispensaries (Sensible Colorado, n.d). The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment faced legal charges for creating an informal rule prohibiting caregivers from providing medical marijuana to more than 5 patients at a time (Sensible Colorado, n,d). In 2007, Sensible Colorado, Colorado’s medical marijuana distribution system, won the lengthy hearing, and its victory made way for store-front dispensaries throughout Colorado. Fast forward November 2012, 55% of Colorado’s voters were pro-Amendment 64 (Sensible Colorado, n.d). Amendment 64 made recreational marijuana use legal to anyone age 21 or older. This law was effective January 2014, and almost two years later the changes in the state are astounding.
Christopher Ingraham looks into marijuana’s first year as a business industry in “Colorado’s Legal Weed Market”. In Colorado’s first year of legalization, their recreational dispensaries brought in an estimated $700 million in sales and $63 million in tax revenue (Ingraham). Katie Rucke reports that nearly 10,000 new job opportunities have arisen in “Six Months In, How Has Marijuana Legalization Treated Colorado” The state’s unemployment rate has dropped down to 6%, one of the lowest rates in the nation, and the lowest it has been in the state since the recession (Rucke). Many jobs created by the marijuana industry are above the minimum wage. A lot of the money made is going to the agency responsible for enforcing rules and laws and performing compliance checks, but some will also fund the construction of schools and the creation of youth and public education campaigns about marijuana. Governor John Hickenlooper had also proposed using $10 million of the revenue to research the medical aptitude of marijuana (Rucke).
According to Matt Ferner in “Colorado Funds Multiple Studies on Marijuana’s Medical Possibilities”, the Colorado state Board of Health approved nearly $8 million in grants to fund 8 separate studies investigating potential medical benefits of marijuana in December of 2014. The studies will look into marijuana’s efficacy when used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease, pediatric epilepsy, and brain tumors. The studies will also compare marijuana’s painkilling abilities with those of prescription opioids. The purpose of these studies are to help physician’s understand the biochemical effects and proper dosage of the plant, as well as determine which medical issues should qualify under the state’s list of ailments that make patients eligible for a medical marijuana prescription. The Children’s Hospital Colorado website supports strong clinical trials and rigorous scientific research to determine the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana (Welnick, “Research About Medical Marijuana”). They are currently working with the state and the federal government to perform trials related to marijuana. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to study the plant and how it may help epilepsy, neuro-oncology, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Adjudicating a single marijuana case costs nearly $300 (Rucke). That being said, the state could potentially save $10-$40 million each year since minor possession cases will no longer be prosecuted (Rucke). According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data, the overall crime rate in the state is down 10.1% from 2013, and violent crimes have decreased by 5.2%. Cannabis possession arrests were down 84% and arrests for growing and selling it were down 90% (Rucke). Dispensary burglaries are at an all-time low. Law enforcement officers are setting an example of acceptable and unacceptable use of marijuana by ticketing those who use marijuana in public areas with a civil fine.
Many parents and educators worry that legalizing marijuana will make the plant more accessible to minors. In another article by “Teen Marijuana Use Falls as More States Legalize”, Christopher Ingraham looks into marijuana use among teenagers. Studies reflect that in 2014, marijuana use among high school students declined (Ingraham). Legalization has taken marijuana from the “black markets” and “back alleys” that have sometimes targeted children, and placed it in responsible businesses and put an age limit on it. Not a single dispensary in Colorado has received complaints of selling to minors. Mason Tvert, co-director of the Amendment 64 legalization campaign states, “The drop in teen use reflects the fact that the state and local authorities have far more control over marijuana than ever before.” He argues that “Our goal should not be increasing teens’ perception of risk surrounding marijuana. It should be increasing teens’ knowledge of the actual relative harms of marijuana, alcohol, and other substances so that they can make smart decisions.” There is no way to say that abolishing sever marijuana laws directly causes a decrease in teen use, but the studies shown by Ingraham demonstrate that it is impossible to correlate “relaxing marijuana laws” and “increased teen use”.
Legal marijuana means safer marijuana for those who are “just going to smoke it anyways”. In illegal states, no one can really know what is in the plant that they purchase. In some cases, users have bought marijuana laced with chemicals, which can be extremely dangerous. Dealers have been known to sell “joints” or blunts” laced with lead, PCP, cocaine, crack, or embalming fluid to unsuspecting buyers. With legalization, those producing the marijuana will be under careful examination of the law. There will be no question or fear of what the plant contains.
Since the implementation of Amendment 64 Colorado has seen a $63 million increase in tax revenue in its first year (Ingraham). A substantial amount of the revenue has funded schools, educations, and youth awareness of marijuana. An economic industry has created itself overnight. 10,000 jobs have surfaced and unemployment has dropped to one of the lowest rates in the nation (Rucke). Organizations are able to fund the research of medical marijuana. Teen use of marijuana unexpectedly decreased (Ingraham), and the plant has been put into the safe, responsible hands of the law. Colorado has modeled the responsible, beneficial way to implement legalization in any state.