Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Even among skeptics, benefits of marijuana reform seem to eclipse drawbacks in Colorado

Colorado.first_.to_.legalize.250-1I am a fairly strong proponent of marijuana reforms in large part because there seem to be a number of tangible immediate benefits from legalizating, regulating and taxing the marijuana marketplace, while significant drawbacks rarely prove to be as dire as predicted by opponents of reform.   Two new stories in major newspapers today discussing developments in Colorado reinforce my views. Here are headlines, links and exceepts:

From USA Today here, "These kids are going to college on pot": 

Colorado pot smokers are helping send 25 students to college, the first scholarships in the U.S. funded with taxes on legal marijuana.  The awards offered by Pueblo County, in southern Colorado, are the latest windfall from legal Colorado marijuana sales that are also helping build schools and aid the homeless — and in one county, providing 8% raises to municipal workers.

Pueblo County is granting $1,000 each to the students, with recipients to be announced later this month.  “It’s incredible,” said Beverly Duran, the executive director of the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, which is overseeing the scholarships.  "Every year we get a nice pool of students … but we can always only award to a small percentage.  This for us expands that to extraordinary lengths.”...

Further south in Colorado, Huerfano County expects to collect an extra $500,000 in cannabis taxes this year. That’s bankrolling an 8% raise for almost all of the county's 96 municipal employees, a big deal in an area where a county road worker earns $12 an hour and most employees haven’t had a raise in more than five years....

In Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, marijuana taxes are helping improve roads, pay off a municipal recreation center, and provide direct services for homeless men and women.  Aurora has nearly 20 pot shops and five grow sites, generating a projected $5.4 million in new taxes this year.

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Governor who called legalization 'reckless' now says Colorado's pot industry is working":

“The predictions of fire and brimstone have failed to materialize,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform pot laws.  “Most Coloradoans, including the governor, recognize that the law is working.”

From the start, [Colorado Gov] Hickenlooper saw the legalization of marijuana as a great national experiment, something utterly new in this country and fraught with potential public health and safety issues.  He fretted about a potential rise in drug use among children and was clearly uncomfortable with an amendment directly conflicting with federal law, which considers pot an illegal drug on par with cocaine.

There were plenty of snags at first.  Marijuana edibles proved especially problematic because few people had experience with them. High-profile overdoses made national news.  Just last week a lawsuit was filed against the maker of a marijuana-laced candy, alleging the product triggered a "psychotic episode" that caused a man to kill his wife in 2014.  Still, none of Hickenlooper’s worst fears were realized.

Colorado is booming.  The state has a 4.2% unemployment rate, one of the best in the country.  High-tech companies are moving in.  Small towns across the state, some once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, have been saved by tax revenues from pot dispensaries.  And the $1-billion-a-year cannabis business will pump $100 million in taxes into state coffers this year.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, said the governor’s views reflect a growing sense of optimism about how the industry is regulated.  “In the short run, there have been a lot fewer public safety and health issues than the governor feared in the beginning,” said Freedman, who is often referred to as the state’s marijuana czar.  “In the beginning, we had problems with edibles and hash oil fires but now, for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before legalization.”

Marijuana consumption has not changed much from pre-legalization levels and there has been no significant increase in public health and safety problems, he said.  As for the $100 million in tax revenue, Freedman noted, that's out of a $27-billion state budget.  Some 70% of the money is earmarked for school construction, public health initiatives and other projects.  The rest goes back into regulating the industry.  

“The governor has called this a grand experiment from the beginning.  He looks at data points as he goes along and I think he’s pleasantly surprised that there were not as many challenges as he thought,” Freedman said. “He would say the jury is still out on this experiment but he’s optimistic.”

Some are less circumspect.  “The state’s image is actually rising.  We were just ranked as the best place to live in America,” Tvert said.  “The idea that businesses would not relocate here or conferences wouldn’t be held here was untrue.  In fact, attendees at conferences are now offered pot tours as day trips.”

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2016/05/even-among-skeptics-benefits-of-marijuana-reform-seem-to-eclipse-drawbacks-in-colorado.html

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