The success of marijuana legalization in Colorado goes beyond the dollars signs

marijuana legalization, coloradoUnless you live under a rock or have somehow been deprived of actual news, you know that marijuana is now legal in two states, Colorado and Washington.

A brief history of the legalization of weed goes back to a 1975 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court which held that Alaska’s Constitutional right to privacy protects an adult’s ability to use and possess a small amount of marijuana in the home for personal use. The Alaska Supreme Court became the first and only state or federal court to proclaim a constitutional privacy right that protects some level of marijuana use and possession

On November 6, 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to fully legalize the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use since the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, when they passed Colorado Amendment 64 and Washington Initiative 502. Marijuana is regulated in a way similar to alcohol, allowing possession of up to an ounce for adults ages 21 and older, with “DUID” provisions similar to those against drunk driving.

The city of Portland, Maine legalized the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana on November 5, 2013 making it the first city on the east coast to do so. The citizens voted in the law with 67% in favor of legalization. This law does not allow for the sale of marijuana and city police still intend to enforce state law, under which possession is a civil offense and only medical marijuana is legal.

So what, if any, in the last two years have the consequences been of legalizing pot in Washington and Colorado? The consequences so far aren’t related to marijuana so much as the money that comes from it. One aspect of legalizing Marijuana is the fact that businesses must operate largely in cash because pot isn’t legal at the national level.

Federal money-laundering laws prevent financial institutions from handling marijuana-related money. Some law makers are taking this opportunity to reintroduce the idea of state run banks. An aspect of legalization I never considered. In June, Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper, signed into law a measure to create the nation’s first state-run marijuana financial cooperative.

marijuana legalizationSpeaking of money… In the first month of legal retail sales of marijuana in Colorado, the state brought in $3.5 million in tax revenues and fees. It levies a 15 percent excise tax and a 2.9 percent sales tax. The first four months of legal marijuana sales have resulted in $10.8 million in tax revenue. Approximately $1.9 million will go to improve Colorado’s schools.

Hickenlooper estimated sales in all marijuana stores will approach $1 billion for the 2014 fiscal year. Retail store sales are estimated to account for more than $600 million of that, more than 50 percent higher than initially projected. It seems everyone is willing to pay for that Rocky Mountain high and that includes a lot of tourists who are adding to Colorado’s economy.

OK, that sounds marvelous, but what about the crime rate? Well, there has also been a 5.2% decrease in violent crime since last year at this time in Denver. And, according to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, by removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession, the state could save anywhere from $12 to $40 million in one year. As many predicted, violence, soaring addiction rates and other problems remain imaginary worries.

Other good news comes on the medical frontier. Governor Hickenlooper signed a bill that will provide $10 million for research into the medical efficacy of marijuana. This research will help the state determine which medical conditions would be eligible for treatment with medical marijuana and help physicians better understand its biochemical effects.

Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, there can be no federal research. Opening up funds for medical research holds much promise for the future. Cannabis  has already been shown to have positive effects for people coping with the pain and nausea caused by cancer and the drugs consumed to fight cancer.

While Washington State has also legalized recreational cannabis, sales began just this month and only a handful of shops have opened here. From what I understand, there is also a shortage of growers for the area. I have not yet been able to find statistics for Washington, but since I live in there, I am anxious to see if we experience the same positive results that Colorado has.

The legalization of cannabis seems fated to become legal in every US state. I for one, am eager to see what positive results can be wrought from this very multi-functional plant.



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