It was big news last year when the voters in Colorado and Washington
decided to make it legal to purchase marijuana in those states. While
the Evergreen State (Washington) is still writing the rules for how the
system is going to work there, residents and tourists in Colorado are
already experiencing their Rocky Mountain high. Part of the
justification for making pot legal was the thinking that if a certain
percentage of people were going to use the drug, then the state should
legalize and regulate it so that fees and taxes could be received.
week the first economic returns for Colorado were reported when the
sales tax numbers for January were released. And to say some officials
in the state were pleased would be an understatement.
A total of
nearly $1 million of marijuana was sold legally in a limited number of
licensed shops across the state. That raised $80,000 in sales taxes,
$55,000 of which was collected at four shops in Pueblo County alone.
County officials have stated they plan on licensing ten shops in 2014
and two more have already been added in February. Plans call for using
the tax money to shore up a county budget that has struggled in the past
few year in the area located south of Denver.
Gov. Hickenlooper’s office projects the marijuana industry - including a
growth in the tourist industry fueled by “pot destination” vacations -
to hit the $1 billion mark in the fiscal year starting on July 1. That
is double previous estimates.
Examining the issue strictly as an
economic exercise, the returns appear to be helping local economies, but
we feel it is entirely too early to be able to tell about the long-term
effects on the state budget and the people.
- Will the
legalization of marijuana lead to a larger number of users who move from
pot to hard core drugs like heroin? According to the Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 957,000 people in
the U.S. sought treatment for marijuana use in 2012. If that many people
asked for help, how many others moved on to more potent drugs without
seeking treatment and how much did that cost the states?
the legalization of marijuana lead to a higher crime rate? Statistics in
Ohio have shown that as heroin usage has grown in the past decade,
corresponding crime rates have risen as well. While there has not been a
causal relationship proven between marijuana and crime, if pot does
prove to be a gateway drug, then will those crime rate statistics climb
- Will the legalization of marijuana lead to greater use
among teens in Colorado? Gov. Hickenlooper is so concerned about this
potential problem that he has laid aside $45 million for youth
marijuana-use prevention programs.
In fact, Hickenlooper - who was
not in favor of the legalization of marijuana - has also earmarked $40
million of the state budget for substance abuse programs, $12 million on
public health projects concerning drugs, $2 million for
anti-stoned-driving campaigns, and $2 million to beef up law enforcement
to regulate the marijuana shops. All of those expenditures are in
addition to the $29 million Colorado was already spending on
marijuana-based programs. Suddenly $101 million of potential fees and
taxes are being put back into the system for problems that were not as
So as the country stands back and watches
the grand experiment under way in Colorado, and soon in Washington, it
appears that there really is no clear cut answer to what the final
outcome will be in those states. It may be years before it is known.
What we know today is that we are glad that experiment is not taking place in Ohio.