In November 2012, Coloradans voted on a ballot initiative to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol. Leading up to the election, opponents claimed that passage of the measure would cause more problems than it would solve. Voters were not fooled. They approved the initiative, marijuana became legal for adults on December 10, 2012, and licensed businesses began legally selling marijuana to adults on January 1, 2014. Since then, opponents’ dire predictions have proven to be unfounded, the state has experienced significant benefits, and polls show voters’ support for the law has not wavered.
Public Opinion and Good Government
- Amendment 64 was approved 55-45 in 2012. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted three years later found support for the law is just as strong as when it passed, but opposition has dropped to 41%.
- A Public Policy Polling survey conducted in September 2016 found voters are still upbeat about the state’s new marijuana law and few would support repealing it. More than half said they think the law has been good for the state (47%) or had no real impact (9%), and only about one-third said they would support a repeal measure if it were on the 2016 ballot.
- In July 2014, the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management published a 35-page report titled, “Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding.” According to the report, “[Colorado] has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state.”
Regulation, Local Control, and Criminal Justice Savings
- In 2015, more than $996 million in marijuana sales took place in legitimate, taxpaying businesses instead of in the underground market. These state- and locally-licensed establishments are subject to strict testing, packaging, and labeling requirements, which are enforced through frequent compliance checks by state and local authorities. State officials believe 70% of the estimated demand for marijuana is now being met by the legal market, according to a February 2016 report in The Economist.
- Localities have the authority to prohibit marijuana stores and facilities or they can allow them and regulate them as they see fit. More than 60 cities and towns, as well as unincorporated areas of more than 20 counties, have opted to allow the establishment of retail marijuana businesses.
- Marijuana-related court filings dropped 81% from 10,340 in 2012 to 1,954 in 2015, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
Tax Revenue and Job Creation
- According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the regulated marijuana market generated more than $156 million in state tax revenue and license fees in FY 2015-2016. These figures do not include millions of dollars in local taxes and fees that were raised by cities and towns throughout the state. For example, the Denver city government reports that it received more than $29.5 million from local marijuana taxes and licensing fees in 2015. This was more than enough to cover the cost of enforcement, regulation, and education, which were about $6.9 million that year and are estimated to be around $9.1 million in 2016.
- The Colorado Legislature distributed approximately $220.8 million in marijuana tax funds in FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-17, according to a July 2016 report from Legislative Council staff. Less than 10% of those funds ($21.5 million) were needed to cover the costs associated with regulating marijuana. More than $138.3 million was distributed to the Colorado Department of Education to benefit Colorado schools, including $114.9 million for the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) public school construction program.
- When Colorado voters adopted Amendment 64, they were promised a state tax on wholesale marijuana transfers would raise $40 million per year for the BEST program. That tax actually raised more than $40 million in the last fiscal year, resulting in $40 million for the BEST program in FY 2016-17, plus an additional $5.7 million for Colorado’s Public School Fund. In addition to those funds, more than $5.5 million was used to increase the presence of health professionals in schools, according to Legislative Council staff, and more than $4.3 million was used for health-related programs in schools. In addition, $2.9 million was used for drop-out prevention programs, and $2.9 million was used for school bullying prevention and education.
- As of September 2016, there were 28,847 individuals with valid occupational licenses to work directly in Colorado marijuana businesses, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Marijuana businesses also retain workers and utilize services from a wide variety of collateral sectors, such as construction, engineering, security, legal, insurance, real estate, and retail. According to a statewide poll conducted in September 2016 by Public Policy Polling, more than one out of four Colorado voters (28%) said they have a friend, family member, or acquaintance who has worked either directly for a marijuana business or for non-marijuana businesses that provides products or services to marijuana businesses.
Economy, Business Climate, Tourism, and Real Estate
- A September 2016 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that three out of five Colorado voters (61%) think Amendment 64 has had a positive impact on the economy, whereas only 19% think it has had a negative impact.
- Colorado had the fastest-growing state economy in 2014 and the #3 best economy in the nation in 2015, according to Business Insider. The Forbes list of 190 “best places for business” included five Colorado cities in the top 50, including Denver at #1 and Fort Collins at #10.
- Opponents of the Colorado initiative said it would interfere with employers’ drug-testing policies and create hazardous workplaces, but employers have been able to maintain existing policies and create new ones as they see fit, and there have not been any new or increasing marijuana-related problems. Loss costs — the average cost of lost wages and medical expenses associated with on-the-job injuries — did not increase following the first year in which the initiative was fully implemented, then decreased in the second. There has been no increase in the rate of lost-time workers compensation claims, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and the Department of Public Health and Environment reports there were fewer fatal occupational injuries in 2013 and 2014, the years following legalization, than in 2011, the year prior to legalization.
- Colorado tourism broke records for number of visitors and amount of dollars spent for the fifth year in a row in 2015, and recovery of the state’s tourism economy is nearly double that of the national rate, according to reports from the Colorado Tourism Office. Opponents of the 2012 initiative said legalization would damage the state’s skiing and resort industry, but the number of visitors and the amount of money spent reached all-time highs in each of the past three ski seasons, according to a July 2016 Denver Post report. Denver’s convention and tourism bureau reported that the city hosted a record-high number of conventions in 2014, and the number of people who came to Denver for conventions and business increased 9% from 2014 to 2015, whereas business travel remained flat nationally.
- Colorado home prices saw the largest increase of any state in 2014, according to housing trend tracker CoreLogic, and they increased at some of the fastest rates in the nation in 2015. In 2015, Denver’s retail vacancy rate dropped to the lowest it has been since 2006, and its retail lease rate increased to the highest it has been since 2009, according to the Denver Business Journal.
Quality of Life, Public Health, and Safety
- In March 2016, U.S. News & World Report named Denver the #1 best place to live in the United States. The only other Colorado metro area large enough to be considered, Colorado Springs, was ranked #5.
- Rates of marijuana use among Colorado teens have remained unchanged since 2005 and are slightly below the national average, according to results of a biannual statewide survey released in June 2016 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) found that 21.2% of high school students in Colorado reported using marijuana within the past 30 days in 2015 — compared to 21.7% nationwide — which is down slightly from 22% in 2011, the year before the legalization initiative was approved. The HKCS found that the rate of lifetime use among Colorado high school students dropped from 42.6% in 2009 to 38% in 2015 (compared to 38.6% nationwide). Among Colorado middle school students, the rate of current marijuana use dropped from 5.1% in 2013 (the first year data was available) to 4.4% in 2015. There were also a decrease in the percentage of middle school students who reported it was easy to obtain marijuana, as well as increases in the percentage that believe using marijuana is “wrong” for people their age and who perceive the use of marijuana to pose moderate or great risk. In a December 2015 interview, Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said she was surprised that marijuana usage rates have not risen in light of changes in policy and public attitude regarding marijuana, noting, “All of those factors have led many to predict that there would be an increase in the pattern of use of marijuana among teenagers and we are not seeing it.”
- The Colorado Department of Education reports high school graduation rates have steadily increased and dropout rates have steadily decreased since 2010.
- The Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center (RMPDC) received 151 calls regarding marijuana exposure in 2014 — up from 88 in 2013 — including 45 that involved children 8 years of age and under. By comparison, according to its 2014 annual report, it received 49,701 total calls that year, including 2,057 regarding children 5 and under who were exposed to cosmetics and personal care products, 1,422 regarding children exposed to household cleaning products, and 703 regarding children exposed to vitamins.
- Colorado government and law enforcement officials have repeatedly stated that there is not enough data to draw any conclusions about the impact the state’s marijuana laws may or may not be having on crime rates and traffic safety. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported a 2.5% decrease in overall crime in Colorado from 2013 to 2014, and the Colorado State Patrol reported that marijuana-related DUI arrests decreased from 2014 to 2015, which is noteworthy because enforcement efforts and overall traffic increased during that time period, according to the director of the Colorado Governor’s Office of Marijuana Coordination. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area claims there has been an increase in “marijuana-related” traffic fatalities, but its report — which has been widely criticized for being misleading and politically motivated — concedes that marijuana might not have been in any way responsible for the accidents they included in their count (e.g. they include accidents involving alcohol and/or other drugs, as well as accidents in which the driver who tested positive for marijuana might not have been at fault; they also include accidents involving unimpaired drivers who used marijuana days or even weeks before the accident, but tested positive because it remains detectable in the body for days or weeks after use).