Five months after Colorado began selling marijuana to adults in state-sanctioned retail stores, the state has collected at least $12.6 million in tax revenue, created thousands of new jobs and seen crime fall in Denver, where most marijuana retailers are located.
Critics, however, seize on incidents of over-ingestion by people new to marijuana, some evidence of increased seizures of Colorado pot in neighboring states and a rise in emergency room visits for children who’ve accidentally ingested marijuana as evidence that legalization has been a failure.
The biggest problems involve marijuana edibles, food products that are infused with marijuana’s active ingredient, THC. Edibles come in many forms and can pack a punch that isn’t felt by the user until up to an hour after ingestion, leading some to over-indulge.
The most high-profile incident was in March, when a 19-year-old University of Wyoming student, in Colorado for spring break, ate more than the recommended portion of a marijuana cookie and began behaving erratically before he fell to his death from a hotel balcony.
The coroner’s report cited “marijuana intoxication” as a significant contribution to his death.
A month later, a man shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana-laced candy, but the connection between the two hasn’t yet been established. He may also have taken prescription pain medication, according to reports.
Both deaths have been used by critics to loudly denounce Colorado’s ground-breaking effort to regulate a substance that is still illegal in 48 states and at the federal level.
“We’ve seen lives damaged,” said Kevin Sabet, of the anti-marijuana group Project SAM, in comments to The New York Times. “We’ve seen deaths directly attributed to marijuana legalization. We’ve seen marijuana slipping through Colorado’s borders. We’ve seen marijuana getting into the hands of kids.”
But the Times also noted that a lack of hard data about the new industry’s effect on health and the community’s well-being, despite such lurid examples.
Proponents of legalization say they are isolated incidents that ignore the overwhelming number of marijuana customers who have partaken in the state’s newest and most controversial offering with no problem.
“Every major institution said this would be horrible and lead to violence and blood in the streets,” attorney Brian Vicente told the Times. “None of that’s happened. The sky did not fall.”
Crime in Denver, however, has fallen.
Violent crime, robberies and assaults are down 5.6, 4.8 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, from the same period in 2013, according to statistics compiled by Vox. Crime in Denver overall is down 10 percent, the Times reported. Both news outlets stressed that it’s too soon to attribute the statistics to marijuana sales.
Recently, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana, admitted that pot sales haven’t negatively impacted Colorado’s business reputation.
Still, state leaders have recognized the need to tweak the new law, by tweaking packaging and labeling requirements for edible products, for instance. Legalization proponents say adjustments to the law are not only inevitable, but invited by those in the industry.
“Marijuana was illegal for 80 years,” Vicente told the Times. “Now it’s legal, and everyone’s just trying to figure out how to approach these new issues.”
The Colorado experience — watched not only by federal authorities, but by other states — has been positive enough that voters in five other states are likely to weigh in on their own legalization initiatives. They include Alaska, California, Arizona, Oregon and Maine, according to NBC.
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