January marked year one since pot became legal for recreational sale in my home state. I though it might be interesting to see what changes, if any, have befallen our area. This is my eye witness report of life in Colorado after one year of legal marijuana.
Marijuana Tax Bonanza!
The tax figures are in regarding state money made from marijuana sales last year.
- Sales from legal recreational and medical marijuana amounted to $700 million last year.
- Recreational sales were below some estimates but still brought in $44 million in tax revenue.
- Medical marijuana sales and fees brought in an additional $35 million, bringing total pot tax revenue to $76 million.
Marijuana made so much money that the state might have to give some back. Here in Colorado, we have what’s known as the TABOR amendment. It’s highly controversial, but basically says that any time tax revenue grows faster than the state population or inflation, it has be refunded to tax payers unless voters elect otherwise. You can bet there will be a special election coming up soon. The state doesn’t want their tax money to go up in smoke!
In addition to sales tax, I’ve seen other business who are cashing in on marijuana. You can visit coloradopotguide.com to find weed friendly accommodations in Colorado. There are also a variety of cannabis tours that offer transportation, lodging, and a green gift bag to visitors. While vendors of pot do have their own trouble with banking, rules, and regulations, the job market related to marijuana sales seems to be poised for huge growth over the next several years.
Did Marijuana Increase Crime?
It depends on what type of crime. Most of the statistics seem to agree that crime went down in 2014. All violent crime rates, including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault were lower last year. Fatal car accidents did not increase. Burglary, larceny, and auto theft were down as well. The only serious crime rate that rose in Denver was for arson, which increased by 30%. It seems pot smokers may be burning down the house!
Last year brought more butane explosions due to hash extraction methods. There were also more police calls for complaints of strong odors and for ER visits due to overuse of marijuana, either from smoking or edibles. Many were with tourists not familiar with how strong some types of legal marijuana actually are or from children who thought they were eating candy. I’ve read more than one local article warning visitors to take it easy if they plan to imbibe while on vacation. There are reports of adults committing crimes or suicide while under the influence of marijuana, but no one can say if those are due to legalization or not.
It’s easy to push statistics to favor whatever viewpoint you are trying to promote. I asked a few police officers and a local judge if they’ve seen an increase in crime related to marijuana legalization. All of them confirmed my thoughts that people who consume marijuana generally don’t commit violent crimes. In fact, one officer estimated that 95% of his arrests were related to alcohol, not marijuana use.
Our Neighbors Are Not So Happy
Lawsuits are popping up right and left regarding legalization of marijuana. Private business as well as the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing Colorado with the claim that legal marijuana has either hurt their business or caused illegal trafficking across the borders. Since selling marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government, these lawsuits are trying to shut down pot sales with the claim that they are unconstitutional.
I do see some relevance for business owners. Family businesses could see a decline in traffic if a pot store opens up next door. I’m not sure about the other states. I think people who want to sell pot illegally will always find ways to do so, whether they live near a marijuana friendly state or not.
Late night comedians have to be thanking Colorado for actually being “the highest state in the US.” When Denver played Seattle in the NFL playoffs last month, we kept hearing about the “Weed Bowl” or the “Doobie Bowl.” It was funny the first dozen times.
You also have conservative people who think legalization of marijuana is the beginning of the apocalypse. My Mother believes that we are all probably going straight to Hell for even living in a pot legal state. Of course, the town where I grew up is in a real life dry county, so you can see how legalizing weed might seem very dire indeed.
One Coloradan’s Thoughts
My thoughts are that people are going to do what they want to do. Does being in a dry county stop people from drinking? No, it just means they have to drive across the border to buy alcohol. Do laws against pot keep people from using it? Nope.
Will my child want to smoke pot more because it’s legal here? Probably not. Will she try pot at some point? I’d be a fool to think she won’t. All I can do is keep an honest discussion open regarding all the temptations that will pop up throughout her adolescence. It’s still illegal for anyone under 21 to buy pot or alcohol, but that doesn’t mean kids won’t find ways to indulge. Thinking your kid won’t smoke pot because it’s illegal works about as well as Sarah Palin’s family plan for abstinence before marriage.
Now, I wouldn’t want to legalize everything on that principle. Making meth or cocaine legal would not be a good thing, but I really believe marijuana does no more harm than cigarette smoking. I think it does less harm than alcohol. None of those are healthy and without risks, but you can’t really say one is that much worse than the other.
As far as life in Colorado, I have noticed no change. Our town just allowed its first recreational marijuana sales license and another is pending approval. Other than seeing a big green cross sign as I drive down the street, I doubt I’ll be affected one way or another. I have no more interest in consuming marijuana now than I did a year ago. People are not allowed to smoke pot in public places, and I have not noticed stoned people running around town. With the average recreational sale around $300-$400, most people I know probably can’t afford it anyway.
I guess Colorado is still kind of an experiment in progress. Time will tell if we really are opening the door to anarchy or if we have found a viable way to fund some of the much needed programs that never seem to have enough money.
Would you be happy or sad if your state legalized marijuana? Should I give up optometry and go into the green tourism business?
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