Now What? Post Legalization in CO


This blog is Part II of a series, CLICK HERE to read Part I

As one of two states to legalize Recreational Marijuana (MJ) in 2012, everybody is watching Colorado to see how it will unfold, including our democratic presidential candidates…

no-u-turn“I believe it’s important that states like Colorado lead the way…And I would certainly not want the federal government to interfere with the legal decision made by the people of Colorado…I want other states to learn from you, what works and what doesn’t work.”1 

Senator Hillary Clinton, 2015 


dollar-eye“Colorado has led the effort toward legalizing marijuana and I’m going to watch very closely to see the pluses and minuses of what they have done.”2

Senator Bernie Sanders, 2016

The question now becomes, so what happened? It has been nearly four years since voters approved amendment 64 – there were lots of dire predictions and anticipated outcomes on both sides of the issue. Let’s take a look at what we know now…

According to the Marijuana Policy Project in 20153,

  • Licensed and regulated marijuana stores earned just short of $1 billion in revenue
  • $135 million was collected in taxes and fees
  • 55% of Colorado voters still support legalization
  • $16 million dollars was allocated to Colorado Department of Education through the Building Excellent Schools Today grants

Another hot topic related to legalization was the presumed increase in criminal activity if pot was more readily available. However, statistically, that has not proven to be true. As indicated in a report published by the Drug Policy Alliance, since 2010,

  • Marijuana possession charges are down by more than 90%
  • Marijuana cultivation charges are down by 96%
  • Marijuana distribution charges are down by 99%

Other reports indicate that in Denver, where there is the largest concentration of marijuana outfits, crime overall is in decline. In 2014, crime rates decreased by nearly 3% from the previous year and rates of violent crimes decreased by nearly 2%4.

Many proponents of decriminalization take a social justice stance on the issue, arguing that MJ related offenses are tying up court systems, overcrowding jails, costing taxpayers millions for incarceration and unjustly discriminate against men of color. Most compelling is the inequity in arrests rates and convictions of minorities.

  • In 2014, an estimated 700,993 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses and over 88% were for possession alone4
  • Blacks are over 3.5 times as likely to be arrested for possession as whites, despite very similar usage rates5
  • Disproportionate arrest rates are found in every state5

These inequalities result in a lifetime of barriers to basic resources such as employment, education, housing and government assistance. The Social Justice Policy Brief: A Social Work Perspective on Drug Policy Reform, published by National Association of Social Workers (NASW), recommends an alternate approach to the current criminal justice system.

“Exclusive of incidents in which drug trafficking and drug-related violent crime are involved, NASW believes the response to drug-related arrests is best dealt with from a public health–disease management approach as opposed to a strictly criminal justice response.”6


This week in another landmark decision Vermont rejected state legislation that would legalize marijuana. Vermont was poised to be the first state to legalize marijuana through legislative action, as opposed to a referendum. Interestingly the closest of all the measures was a change in the punitive component of current laws, defeated by a mere seven votes7. This suggests the decriminalization aspect is the most compelling part of the pro legalization argument. The environmental context of this social justice issue exists in the mass incarceration of individuals, the physical structures themselves, the infrastructure and the resources necessary to build and maintain these facilities, again, one has to ask…

“Wouldn’t we be better of building schools rather than prisons?”

Works Cited 

1MSNBC, October 14, 2015, Hillary Clinton

 2Reddit AMA, May 19, 2015, Bernie Sanders


4, 5


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