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What’s the Verdict on Colorado’s First Year of Legal Marijuana?


A year after Colorado historically legalized adult-use marijuana, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

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One year after the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, both crime rates and traffic fatalities decreased during the first 11 months.  Photo Via

One year on, both crime rates and traffic fatalities decreased. Photo via

January 1, 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of legal marijuana stores opening in Colorado, following the passage of Amendment 64, a ballot initiative to tax and regulate the sale and private use of marijuana for non-medical purposes. A teleconference with Governor Hickenlooper’s office and advocates today, organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, provided a status report on the law’s impact on Colorado over the last year.

The state’s Department of Revenue reports that legal marijuana sales raised $40.9 million in tax revenue between January and October 2014. In addition, crime rates decreased by 2.2%  during the first 11 months of 2014, following a similar trend in 2013. During the same period, burglaries in Denver fell by 9.5% and overall property crime dropped by 8.9%. The 12-year-long downward trend in traffic fatalities also continued, with a 3% drop from 2013.

Mike Elliot, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, emphasized today that these statistics invalidate “fear-mongering” detractors who predicted that passing Amendment 64 would mean “there would be carnage on the roads, there was going to be more violence in our society” and that it would “chase away businesses.” Instead, he said, marijuana legalization is proving to increase safety and improve the economy.

But what about the kids? Concerns about the possible impact of marijuana legalization on minors were addressed on today’s call by Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. She reported that marijuana law enforcement sent 20 minors under the age of 21 to try to illegally purchase marijuana; none of these decoys succeeded in purchasing marijuana products. This, she said, is because “there is a large legal market to sell to,” and “businesses see that it is in their best interest to abide to [the law].”

Matthew Kuelhorn of One Voice Coalition and Thrive Prevention Group also pointed out the dramatic shift in communication between teachers and students since the amendment passed. He reported teachers telling him: “Now that marijuana is legal, I can have a more honest conversation with my students about risky behavior,” which includes drug use. More open communication with young people is “something that is very powerful and something we could build upon,” said Kuelhorn.

The tens of millions of dollars earned from marijuana tax revenues fell a little short of expectations, apparently. Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Governor Hickenlooper, reported that a total of $51.1 million has been made from legal sales. Although this is a large sum, Freedman stressed that “it is not enough to solve our education needs, transportation needs, and higher education needs,” among others. He did highlight some positives: Of the tax revenue collected from retail pot, $8 million was allocated for youth prevention and education, mental health and community-based developmental programs. Several million dollars were also spent on other youth prevention efforts, including $4.3 million towards school-based outreach programs for students who use marijuana.

One large takeaway from this one-year status report is that America is experiencing a big shift in opinion in favor of marijuana legalization. The DPA’s Colorado State director Art Way said, “the opposition [to legalization] comes from a very small group of people who are invested in prohibition.” In the wake of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State (followed this year by legalization in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, DC) Way emphasized that the US is “riding the natural paradigm shift” towards accepting the policy’s benefits.