At this point, recreational marijuana has been legal in Colorado for six months… and so far, the end of prohibition is going strikingly well.
Yet before recreational marijuana was legalized, many opponents, including Governor John Hickenlooper, had predicted disaster:
“I think our entire state will pay the price,” Hickenlooper said. “Colorado is known for many great things – marijuana should not be one of them.”
David Weaver, the Douglas County Sheriff, said, “Expect more crime, more kids using marijuana, and pot for sale everywhere.”
In reality, none of the apocalyptic predictions about legalization have come true at this point.
On the contrary, tax revenue is exceeding expectations, and crime rates are down far more than anyone had hoped.
Better Than Anyone Expected
Colorado’s social experiment is still young, but it’s already proving what many people have thought for years: The war on drugs – though well-intentioned – was an expensive, misguided policy.
On the other hand, legalizing recreational marijuana and (heavily) taxing sales have been incredibly beneficial for Colorado, so far.
According to Chris Miles at PolicyMic, the state hauled in more than $10 million in taxes from retail sales in the first four months of 2014. The money, Chris says, will be spent on public schools and infrastructure, as well as educating youth about substance abuse.
Meanwhile, the latest Colorado budget proposal anticipates $1 billion in marijuana sales over the next fiscal year, which would net the state more than $130 million in tax revenue.
Not surprisingly, these figures have changed Governor Hickenlooper’s stance rather quickly. In an email to supporters, he wrote, “While the rest of the country’s economy is slowly picking back up, we’re thriving here in Colorado.”
And that’s not all, either.
Opponents such as Denver’s District Attorney, Mitch Morrissey, had warned of the “violence exploding in the cash-driven medical marijuana industry,” saying that legalizing recreational weed would only compound the problem.
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Yet in Colorado, crime rates have dropped sharply since the state passed legalization on January 1.
According to Denver’s Department of Safety Public Information Standards, the Denver city- and county-wide murder rate is down 42.1% in 2014 compared to the same period last year.
Meanwhile, all violent crime has seen a nearly 2% drop across the state, and major crimes have fallen by 11.5% compared to the same period last year.
Finally, the recreational marijuana industry has put people to work in Colorado. The Marijuana Industry Group estimates that 10,000 people are directly involved, with as many as 2,000 jobs created since January 1.
As the industry grows, the number of new jobs should continue to rise – an added benefit in a time when the economy is still struggling and job creation is only slowly improving.
We Should Proceed With Caution
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to be wary as Colorado’s legalization experiment continues.
For starters, correlation doesn’t always imply causation – meaning it’s impossible to say for sure that legalizing marijuana has led to the decline in crime rates across the state.
On top of that, it’s far too early to determine what the long-term effects of legalization will be. So far, the changes have been overwhelmingly positive – but will that trend hold? Only time will tell.
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