High there! As Virginia politicians scramble to stake out positions on reforming marijuana laws in the Old Dominion ahead of this November’s elections, it is useful to look at the actual experience in Colorado after five years of legal recreational marijuana sales. There is no universally accepted source of truth regarding the success or failure of Colorado’s marijuana legalization. However, many articles have been written regarding Colorado’s experience and the general perception seems to be positive albeit with some significant concerns. As Virginia moves down the road of marijuana reform its political class would be well advised to heed the lessons of those who have already gone down that path.
Jerry Ford and Jerry Garcia. Colorado has a long history of marijuana reform stretching back to the days of the Ford Administration.
- 1975 – Marijuana decriminalized, possession of less than one ounce becomes a civil offense punishable by a fine of $100 for the first offense.
- 2000 – Medical marijuana legalized for certain conditions by voter referendum; 54% support the measure allowing possession of up to 6 ounces of pot or up to six marijuana plants.
- 2006 – First referendum for marijuana legalization fails with 58% voting “no.”
- 2009 – Residents of Breckenridge vote 73% to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in that town. Marijuana possession remains illegal at the state level.
- 2012 – Colorado voters legalize the recreational use of marijuana with 55% voting “yes.”
- 2013 – A series of specific regulations regarding the sale of recreational marijuana are passed in Colorado and signed into law by then Governor John Hickenloopoer.
- 2013 – The taxing regime for recreational marijuana is passed by the electorate.
- January 1, 2014 – Sales of legal recreational marijuana start.
The Good. Revenues are exceeding expectations, jobs are being created at a substantial rate and Colorado’s youth do not seem to be negatively affected.
- Total revenue from pot in Colorado increased from $683.5 million in 2014 (the first year of legalized recreational pot sales) to $1.55 billion in 2018.
- Colorado’s marijuana taxes in 2018 generated $266.5 million, up 8% over 2017.
- Through 2015 Colorado’s marijuana industry has created 18,005 new full-time-equivalent jobs.
- In the five years since legalization Colorado’s high school graduation rate has increased with ” … no change in the number of middle school and high school students reporting marijuana use.“
- Court filings related to marijuana declined 55% between from 11,753 in 2012 to 5,288 in 2017.
The Bad. The incidence of traffic-related crashes and fatalities show mixed results. More Coloradans are getting high.
- Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 138 people killed in 2017. However, the speed with which marijuana metabolizes makes this statistic controversial. Some argue that the marijuana levels measured in this manner do not represent impairment at the time of the accident.
- According to Current Compliance, “Current past-month recreational marijuana use in Colorado shows a 45 percent increase over the past-month use average of the three-years prior to recreational legalization.”
- Also according to Current Compliance, “Adult marijuana use increased 67% in the three years post-legalization, and now is 110 percent higher than the national average.”
The Ugly. Rates of hospitalizations with possible marijuana exposures, diagnoses or billing codes are way up and the black market remains stubborn.
- Marijuana-related hospital visits increased from 575 per 100,000 in 2000 to 3,517 per 100,000 in 2016. Many blame the “technology of marijuana.” Edibles have been created that allow for rapid ingestion of large amounts of THC. Selective breeding has created more potent strains of pot. Candy-like edibles are mistaken by children as harmless treats. Extraction techniques have isolated THC from the rest of the plant making its rapid ingestion easier. All this has led to people finding themselves much higher than they imagined, causing some to seek medical treatment. While undoubtedly scary, nobody has died from a THC overdose and it is debatable as to whether anybody could overdose on marijuana.
- Unsurprisingly, the legal market for marijuana in Colorado has spawned a fast growing black market where legal Colorado weed is illegally shipped to states where marijuana possession is still against the law. How much Centennial State marijuana makes it to Virginia is anybody’s guess but a recent traffic stop in Tennessee netted 100 pounds of Colorado ganja.
Lessons for Virginia. Colorado’s experience has been pretty much what was expected with one big exception. Once legal, more people used marijuana. More people were found to be operating motor vehicles with marijuana in their system (although alcohol DUIs have declined). People hide in the legal Colorado business then illegally export the marijuana elsewhere. Jobs are created, taxes raised are significant. All of that was expected. The biggest unexpected consequence was the impact of edibles and concentrated THC. Colorado has moved to ban the sale of marijuana-infused candy that looks like traditional candy. Every bite of a marijuana edible must be labeled “THC.” The concentration of THC in legal products has been regulated. Colorado’s lessons should be heeded by other states – including, possibly, Virginia.
— Don RippertThere are currently no comments highlighted.