Thursday, February 1, 2018
On Aug. 7, 2017, Jeff Hunt wrote an op-ed purporting to document what had changed in Colorado since marijuana legalization went into effect. What he describes is a dystopian hellscape of childhood drug addiction, disappointing taxing revenue and stoned drivers presenting a constant threat on the highways. He concluded that “[t]he negative consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana will be felt for generations.”
To many of us who live and work in Colorado, Hunt describes a world we don’t recognize. Our state is booming: the population has grown 10 percent since 2010, Denver’s skyline is perpetually dotted with construction cranes, and the city recently made the shortlist of cities competing to host Amazon’s second headquarters. Gov. John Hickenlooper, who initially opposed legalization in the state, has become a cautious supporter.
Perhaps the truest statement in Hunt’s piece appears in the last paragraph: “The true impact of marijuana on our communities is just starting to be learned.” Five years after marijuana legalization passed in Colorado and four years after the first retail stores opened, there is still robust debate around how successful legalization has been in the Centennial State....
All too often, both those in favor of marijuana legalization and those opposed to it pick and choose data to support their position. Denver’s district attorney stated that legalization has led to an increase in murders, car thefts, robberies and home invasions, while another study released just a few months later argued that no increase had taken place. One can find studies that show youth consumption of marijuana has gone up since legalization, as well as those showing a drop. With only three years of data on a regulated market available in Colorado (and far less in other states that legalized after it) it may be some time before clear trends in the data emerge....
No one argues that marijuana legalization has proceeded flawlessly in Colorado or elsewhere. There are significant complications associated with taxing and regulating conduct that the federal government continues to see as criminal in all instances. Regulators and lawmakers need to be nimble in responding to patterns in consumer behavior and to ever-changing signals from the federal government. As they do so, they must look carefully at those who invoke questionable statistics to influence policy. They should also recognize that an important part of any marijuana law reform is the collecting of good, objective data to influence policy going forward.