Marijuana Legalization: One Year Later

As 2014 comes to a close, so too does the first year of legal recreational marijuana sales. There were a lot of expectations placed upon the marijuana industry coming into the year; and as we edge on toward 2015, many people will be looking back and asking the question: Was it worth it?

Now, such a loaded question is bound to yield the typical answer you expect to hear from those with vested interests: the marijuana industry would answer with a resounding yes, while prohibitionists would give a stern and defiant no.

Personal bias aside, there are certain benchmarks that can be used to objectively measure the success of the recreational marijuana industry. A lot of promises and warnings were made in the lead up to legalization and in our democratic society, success can be determined by the number of campaign promises kept.

Today we are going to endeavor to answer the question as to whether or not legalizing recreational marijuana has been worth it so far; and to do that, we’re going to look back some of the claims made about legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado to see how they played out this year.

The most commonly cited concern over marijuana legalization was the effect it would have on “the children.” Marijuana prohibitionists argued that if marijuana was made legal, children would have more access to it and consequently use it.

In a 2012 Reuters interview, anti-marijuana crusader Kevin Sabet told Colorado voters, “If you care about young people succeeding in education and later in life in your state, then you don’t want to legalize marijuana.” Those are dramatic words, but how are we doing so far?

According to a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, teen use of marijuana has declined in Colorado by almost 5 percent since 2009. Even as more states began to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana, the national average for teen marijuana use still declined by 2 percent.

While there is still too little data to discern a trend, one can at least reasonably say so far so good.

Another point of contention in the run up to marijuana legalization was the amount of tax revenue legal marijuana would generate for the state. While marijuana supporters were confident, opponents were dismissive.

In 2012, Laura Chapin of Healthy Drug Free Colorado expressed her doubts that the marijuana industry would even be able to pay its taxes. Chapin asked The Huffington Post, “How do you tax an industry that cannot use bank accounts?” So how did the industry do?

While final figures are not yet in, Colorado has already generated over $30 million in excess recreational marijuana tax revenue, which can be rebated back to the people if the governor chooses that route. For an industry that supposedly wouldn’t be able to pay their taxes, that’s pretty good.

Despite predictions that drugged drivers would be plaguing the roads once marijuana was legalized, fatal traffic collisions actually went down in Colorado. Likewise, crime took a 10 percent drop in 2014. Marijuana may not have caused that drop, but it definitely didn’t hurt it either.

Although the recreational marijuana market is only one year old, by many measures you can still call it an early success. Crime is down, tax revenue is up, and teen drug use is on the decline. Despite hysterical warnings and dubious claims, the marijuana industry is growing while also proving to be a safer investment every day.

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