Colorado marijuana legalization has set an example for the rest of the country, demonstrating how legalizing this drug affects drug use, criminal activity, and economics both positively and negatively. The state attempted to legalize marijuana in 2006, but at that time, a ballot pushing for legalization was defeated. Fast forward to 2012 and Amendment 64 was approved, with 55.32% voting for the amendment and 44.64% voting against the amendment. The amendment allows Colorado residents aged 21 and over to possess and use limited quantities of marijuana and provides for the regulation of the marijuana industry as well as the collection of taxes from marijuana sales.
Given that the amendment was approved in 2012, there has been plenty of time to assess the effects of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. While there have been some benefits to Colorado marijuana legalization, there have also been negative consequences. Get the full story, backed by data and expert review, below.
While opponents of marijuana legalization argue that laws allowing recreational marijuana use are entirely harmful, it is important to recognize that there have been some pros of Colorado marijuana legalization. Consider, for example, the fact that each year, Amendment 64 requires that the first $40 million of excise taxes collected from retail marijuana must be given to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, which provides money for projects at Colorado schools.
There are also other positive impacts of the Colorado legalization to consider.
When evaluating the pros and cons of Colorado marijuana legalization, it is impossible to ignore the economic impact of marijuana sales. According to data from the Colorado Department of Revenue, there were $2,191,091,679 in marijuana sales in 2020, even in the face of a global pandemic. From January to April of 2021 alone, there have been $768,067,702 in marijuana sales.
These marijuana sales have contributed to significant tax revenue in the state. In fact, recent media reports indicate that over a six-year period, Colorado collected 1.6 billion dollars in tax revenue related to in-state marijuana sales. Furthermore, since 2012, around 16% of the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund’s budget has funded educational initiatives, including a $25 million project that allowed schools to develop all-day kindergarten programs. Beyond this, 2018 data showed that over $20 million from marijuana revenue went toward grants that funded school health professionals, early literacy programming, dropout prevention programs and anti-bullying initiatives.
Additional economic benefits of Colorado marijuana legalization include:
The economic benefits of Colorado marijuana legalization are evident, but what is perhaps less obvious is the impact of marijuana legalization on opioid deaths. Some proponents of recreational marijuana legalization argue that such laws reduce rates of opioid abuse and there is some merit to this argument. For example, a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that after Colorado marijuana legalization, there was a 31.5% drop in opioid prescriptions throughout the state.
Has all of this led to a reduction in opioid deaths? The answer may be yes. An analysis of the data shows that recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado led to a 7% decrease in deaths from opioid overdoses, but more research is needed to determine whether marijuana legalization truly contributes significantly to reduced opioid deaths.
One concern when marijuana is legalized is that there is a potential for marijuana use to increase, especially among teens, who may have older friends who are willing to purchase marijuana for them. While this is a legitimate worry, some findings suggest that teen marijuana use has actually declined with Colorado marijuana legalization. In fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that between 2012 and 2017, there was a significant decline in the number of teens admitted to treatment for marijuana use disorders in Colorado. Interestingly, Colorado and six other states that legalized marijuana for recreational use during this period saw the largest drops in marijuana-related treatment admissions among teens.
It is also worth noting that teen marijuana use in Colorado doesn’t differ much from what is seen across the United States as a whole. From 2017-2019, 5.9% of Colorado teens used marijuana for the first time, which is comparable to the national average of 5.2%. Additional data shows that past-month marijuana use among youth in Colorado has remained relatively stable since 1995, suggesting that the Colorado legalization impact has not had much of an effect on teen marijuana use.
Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration confirms this finding, showing that from 2002-2004, 11.4% of Colorado youth had used marijuana in the previous month, compared to 8.5% from 2017 -2019. Since past-month marijuana use suggests relatively regular use, this finding is consistent with the reduction in marijuana treatment admissions that the CDC has reported and indicates that there may be a decline in problematic marijuana use among teens since Colorado legalization took effect.
Another benefit of Colorado marijuana legalization is a reduction in marijuana-related arrests. Research shows that from 2012, when marijuana was legalized, to 2015, there was an 81% decrease in court filings for marijuana-related offenses in the state. In addition, Colorado saw a decline in arrests for driving under the influence between 2011 and 2016, and just 4% of DUI arrests involved marijuana alone.
While it is difficult to determine the exact cost savings associated with reduced arrests, criminal justice experts report that the estimated cost of an arrest is at least $1,000, and the United States spends as much as $3 billion annually on arrests for recreational marijuana use. Given these estimates, the cost savings from reduced marijuana arrests in Colorado are substantial.
While there are benefits of Colorado marijuana legalization, especially in terms of the economic impact and reduced burden on the criminal justice system, the effects of legalizing weed in Colorado are not all positive. With legalization comes the potential for risks to children, as well as increased drug use among some groups.
Unintentional ingestion of marijuana edibles is a concern with Colorado marijuana legalization. Edibles can appear similar to other cookies and candies, and a recent study that asked edible marijuana users and non-users to evaluate the labeling of edibles revealed that participants felt that labels contained too much information. Participants also perceived that the labels included no obvious indication that the edibles contained marijuana. This is problematic, especially given the fact that people may over-consume edibles, leading to a long-lasting high.
Accidental edible ingestion among children is particularly risky and may be more common among this age group since edibles can appear like other candy or desserts that children regularly consume. Despite efforts to keep marijuana out of the hands of young children, Colorado has seen an increase in accidental marijuana ingestion among youth. For instance, the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, saw an increase in visits related to marijuana after legalization, from 1.2 per 100,000 two years prior to legalization, to 2.3 per 100,000 two years following legalization. Nearly half of these hospital visits involved edibles, and additional data showed that pediatric cases of marijuana exposure reported to Poison Control increased five fold between 2009 and 2015, confirming that accidental ingestion is an unfortunate reality.
While some studies suggest that problematic marijuana use has decreased among youth since Colorado marijuana legalization occurred, this has not been the case for all age ranges. In fact, among young adults aged 18 to 25, legalization led to an increase from 33.2% reporting past-year marijuana use in 2002 to 2004 to 51.2% from 2017 to 2019. This was a much larger increase than what was seen across the U.S. as a whole, where past-year use among those aged 18-25 increased from 28.7% in 2002 to 2004 to 35% in 2017 to 2019. In this same age range, the past-year prevalence of marijuana use disorders increased from 7.4% in 2002 to 2004, to 10.2% in 2017 to 2019, indicating that increases in marijuana use have also led to higher rates of marijuana addiction.
Interestingly, the increase in marijuana addiction among young adults from 2002-2004 to 2017-2019 occurred alongside a rather sizable decrease in alcohol addiction, which declined from 21% to 14.6% during this time. Opioid use disorders declined slightly, from 2.4% to 1.7% among young adults.
As is the case with most policy changes, Colorado’s marijuana legalization has come with both pros and cons. While legalization benefits Colorado’s economy and reduces the burden placed upon the criminal justice system, it may also increase marijuana use and addiction, especially among young adults. Children may also face serious consequences if they accidentally ingest marijuana edibles.
Not everyone who uses recreational marijuana will develop an addiction, but the reality is that marijuana can become problematic for some people. If you find that you are unable to stop using marijuana despite serious consequences, you may be in need of treatment for a marijuana use disorder. For those seeking marijuana addiction treatment in Colorado, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is here to help. We offer a range of services, including medical detox, inpatient rehab, partial hospitalization and outpatient programming, and aftercare services. Contact us today to discuss your needs.
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