Results from a Year of Legalized Recreational Marijuana Use in Colorado

It has been a year since Colorado allowed adults to purchase marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries, and two years since possession for personal use became legal. In general, little has changed except a surge in tourism. Some notable changes are interesting though.

The state’s once-tightly regulated medical marijuana industry is now a tighter regulated retail industry. There have been a few scares, with kids eating cannabis products and needing to be hospitalized. The federal government has made it clear that states must keep pot out of the hands of kids. Many people support tougher standards, like banning certain types of candies and marking edibles so they are easy to identify outside the package. The Colorado state Legislature will attempt to tackle the edibles issue for the second straight session, which begins later in January.

Mostly, problems with recreational marijuana have been isolated incidents, according to Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt:

“The sky did not fall,” said Nevitt. “Money fell from the sky, but the sky did not fall.”

The city of Denver collected $7.6 million in taxes through the first three quarters of the year. In addition, the state has collected more than $43 million in taxes and fees from recreational marijuana through October.

The bulk of this revenue will go towards youth substance abuse prevention efforts focused on marijuana and overall mental health. The early indications after a year are favorable showing a slight decline in youth rates of use.

Police issued 668 citations for public consumption of marijuana in the first nine months of 2014 in Denver, but marijuana possession charges in Colorado for 2014 are on track to fall below 2,500, down from nearly 30,000 in 2010. Data also reveals a 41 percent decrease in all drug arrests in the state, which some people attribute to allowing adults to possess, cultivate and privately use marijuana. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2008, well below the national average, too. It is significant to observe that traffic fatalities are near historic lows, and slightly lower than in 2013. Colorado is establishing a public health approach to minimize the potential harm of marijuana.

Cannabis is here to stay. Working toward ending the stigma associated with drug use will encourage more people to quit and lead healthier lives. Using public resources for prevention, education and substance abuse programs offers hope and a solution.

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