Listen up, America: 12 lessons from Colorado’s first year of legal pot

Listen up, America: 12 lessons from Colorado’s first year of legal pot

We’ve hounded the experts while on holiday to bring you an invaluable list drawn from the nation’s latest greatest experiment in permissibility: Here’s a dozen Colorado-legalized-it lessons. Enjoy responsibly.

Regulate it: “First and foremost we learned that regulation works,” said Mason Tvert, Communications Director at the Marijuana Policy Project. “Hundreds of millions of dollars of marijuana sales are now taking place in licensed, tax-paying businesses instead of the underground market. Colorado has shown that other states have the ability to take this new approach to marijuana policy.”

Crimes and mispredictions: “Many of the concerns that legalization opponents put forth during the A64 campaign did not come to fruition in the first year,” said Art Way of the Drug Policy Alliance. “That primarily involves a decrease in violent crime in the city of Denver, including burglaries.” Other fears, such as legalization dampening tourism and the broader economy, also appear unfounded. Tvert points out that more than 18,000 people have become licensed to work in the industry, which also supports ancillary industries from real estate to energy. Colorado’s economy has continued to improve through legalization with big companies like Google choosing to expand operations here. Ski resorts also report record highs in tourism.

Voters don’t regret it: In fact, the Durango Herald reports that 90 percent of those who voted for Amendment 64 say they’d vote for it again.

Don’t DARE: “The state’s largest survey of middle and high school students found that there was no increase in marijuana use among high school and middle school students and that’s been the trend since 2009,” said Tvert. “That’s not to say that it’s the result of the legalization system, but it’s also clear that it’s not driving use up like we heard opponents say it would.” Tvert also noted that teen dropout rates have continued to decline during legalization.

Criminal justice reform: Way says one of the most encouraging takeaways from the first year of legalization is how few people have been taken away. “Marijuana cases, charges and arrests have all plummeted. Meanwhile, intent to distribute charges have not risen, especially in communities of color, which was a personal fear of mine.”

Don’t be anti-social: “It was short sighted to not take into consideration that people will want to consume cannabis in a social setting,” said Jane West of Edible Events and Women Grow. A leading woman in the industry pushing for a classier model of consumption, West says events like Classically Cannabis with the Colorado Symphony at Red Rocks shouldn’t be so hard to put on. “Right now your only option is to break the law,” she said. West suggests a formal permitting process more or less identical to the one already in place for alcohol.

You’re not paranoid, everyone else is high: Just kidding. Use amongst adults also doesn’t seem to have increased, hovering at roughly 1 in 4. via Durango Herald.

No Maureen Dowd about it: “I think we underestimated both the demand for edibles and the education necessary for this new consumer market,” said West. Tvert agreed, adding, “People didn’t really think about just how engrained alcohol is into our culture. For example, Maureen Dowd would never have come to town, sat in bar, ordered a martini, drunk it really quick and said, “Wow I don’t feel anything,” and then immediately repeated the process five more times. People know the difference between a shot of tequila and a glass of wine. When it comes to marijuana, because it’s been illegal without much discussion of its effects geared towards responsible use, people aren’t aware of the effects these products have or how long it takes to feel them. What we have is a cultural element of inexperience with marijuana.”

Explain, don’t contain: When it comes to helping folks use edibles safely, advocates say the approach should be more about explanation than regulation. Mason says the next step should be labeling that’s more descriptive and specific in terms of the timing and impact of your weed gummies. Edible makers and marijuana advocates quickly took it on themselves to do just that with their “Start low, go slow,” campaign (featuring Maureen Dowd-esque model). The industry now encourages all new users of edibles to begin with 5mg. An approach industry folks aren’t such a big fan of? The state legislature’s move last session requiring marijuana products to be sold and kept in child-proof packaging. “For me personally I think childproof packaging is excessive and punitive,” said West. “It’s not the same regulation as for alcohol or other things in the home — cleaning products, for example — that are also dangerous. It’s created a very expensive undue burden on edibles companies.”

Momma’s lil helper: “I’m 38 with two kids and I think that THC/cannabis is a safer alternative substance of choice for women in my demographic, who are prescribed more antidepressants than any other group of Americans,” said West, adding that a range of very low-dose, high-quality tinctures and edibles like mints are making it easier for folks to try a little TCH when they might otherwise take a benzo-based pill. “Cannabis comes with letting things go and slowing down a very busy mind — which is what keeps most women up at night. I do think it’s a healthy alternative substance to try first before prescription medication.”

No perfect system: “We still see state legislatures around the country taking on alcohol regulation issues every year,” Tvert points out. “So the most important rule is that this [legalized marijuana] is an evolving system that is going to change over the course of history. It’s never going to be finished in other words.”

Who cares, man: A cannabinoidal fog has yet to settle upon Denver, squalor/ torpor yet to plague the streets and you still can’t overdose on THC. “The lesson learned is that life will continue to go on except marijuana will be legal,” said Tvert. “If you’re not interested in it, you won’t notice much difference.”

[Cheryl Shuman, “the Martha Stewart of weed,” celebrates legalization in Colorado. Image via her Flickr.] 

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About the Author

Tessa Cheek

She writes and makes photos about communities. Her book, Great Wall Style, a monograph-profile-lyric essay, is out from Images Publishing. tcheek@coloradoindependent.com | 720-440-2527 | @tessacheek

2 Comments

  1. Will Morrison on said:

    Back when Alaska had legal weed, National Geographic had a story on it. At one point in the article, they asked a sheriff there what the difference was between before and after legal weed. He said “No difference, really, we just don’t arrest people for weed, anymore.”

    There is no real surprise, here. We ALL know that people who smoke weed don’t go around beating people up, drive their cars into other cars, shoot people in bars, start illegal wars, torture people in the name of national security, or run million so f jobs off to foreign countries.

    What EXACTLY have we been RUINING people’s lives over NEEDLESSLY for the last 75 years over???? We’ve made pot smokers a national issue for DOING NOTHING. It’s absolutely NO surprise to me that there are next to NO problems associated with legal weed. In fact, nothing but advantages all the way around.

    It’s time we start taking things into our own hands and make a few MORE things legal. Seems to me that the lie in this country is that we are all free at all. When we lock up 25% of the prisoners in the world and we’re only about 5% of the population, something is dreadfully WRONG.

    Time for freedom to be more than a catch phrase for the politicians to screw us with.

  2. Skiier on said:

    Who would put 16 servings worth of hash oil into one cookie. How many folks eat 1/16 of a cookie or 1/16 of a candy bar? That’s what you would call negligence or reckless endangerment. It should have little to no bearing on the issue of legalization.

    We do need to put more thought in to consumables and packaging. It’s not fair to kids to have stuff the looks like party food laced with huge amounts of drugs.

    We recently bought Bailey’s truffles, guess what NO alcohol. If you want drugs take drugs, if you want food leave the drugs out.

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