The first legal retail pot shops in the United States opened in Colorado in January. Six months later, the marijuana industry is thriving and there are few signs of trouble.
Marijuana advocates are cheering statistics showing legal weed is working. The state brought in nearly $11 million in tax revenue between January and April, real estate is selling faster, and pot businesses have provided the state with 10,000 new jobs.
“I think a lot of people are looking at Colorado, and when you see crime going down, that’s a huge sign of success,” said Michael Elliot, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “I think so many things people were scared about have been shown to be nonsense.”
Indeed, crime has dropped in the months since cannabis legalization took effect. In Denver, for example, crime decreased across the board during the first five months of 2014. That includes robbery and other violent crimes, as well as property crimes.
And police recently completed a sting operation to test whether pot shops would sell to underage customers. Not a single store did.
“The division prides itself on ensuring public safety,” said Lewis Koski, director of the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division. “We are pleased with the results and will continue to monitor the businesses to ensure that the compliance efforts are maintained.”
And business is booming. Retail recreational marijuana brought in $69 million in the first four months of the year: $22 million in April, $19 in March, and $14 million in each of January and February.
That’s not counting the medical marijuana market, which outpaces the recreational market. Medical weed generated $32 million in April alone.
Recreational weed also brought in tax money for the state: Almost $11 million in sales and excise taxes. Medical cannabis generated another $7 million in tax dollars.
But the good news hasn’t convinced everyone to get on board with legalization. Marijuana opponents point to increases in rehab admissions and impaired driving cases as evidence weed should be banned again.
At Arapahoe House, Colorado’s largest provider of detox facilities, officials reported that patients charged with cannabis-impaired driving account for 15 percent of admissions, up from 8 percent in 2013.
“We’re only seeing recreational legalization in its infancy, but it’s already having an impact on public safety,” said Kate Osmundson, spokeswoman for Arapahoe House.
Drugged driving cases involving marijuana are becoming more common in Colorado and many other states where weed is allowed for personal or medical use. Yet no evidence suggests that this has led to an increase in total highway fatalities. In fact, some research suggests the opposite.
Two deaths and a number of medical emergencies have led to concerns about edible cannabis. Earlier this year, one man shot his wife and another jumped to his death, both after eating marijuana-infused food.
Still, the overall picture is a good one. Polls show Coloradans like legalization and want it to continue – despite claims by anti-pot crusaders that the state has become a worse place to live.