Nevada voters will very soon decide whether recreational marijuana should be legalized in the Silver State. Recently, the Las Vegas Review-Journal posted an article highlighting some lessons from Colorado as Nevada considers legalized marijuana. So, what was the final analysis? Overall, most Coloradans believe legalized marijuana has been a success, but there have certainly been some unforeseen consequences.
There is evidence that some business conventions have relocated from Denver to other areas, due to complaints about the downtown area. However, tourism, in general, has flourished since legalization in 2012. Overall tourism rose from 15.4M in 2014 to around 16.4M in 2015. With that increase comes a corresponding jump in tourism spending, up to around $5.7B in 2015.
Legalizing cannabis use had the expected effect of reducing the number of possession arrests, and other petty marijuana charges. However, citations for public use of marijuana, which is banned under Colorado law, have risen dramatically since 2014.
The surge in edible marijuana products has created an unintended increase in the number of overdose patients seen by local hospitals. The rate of THC overdose cases rose from 1400 per 100,000 people in 2013 to around 2400 per 100,000 people in 2014-15. Fortunately, there have no reported deaths from THC overdose. Part of the issue with edible cannabis products is understanding dosage. 10 milligrams of THC is typically considered a single dose. Some early products had up to 60 milligrams in one item. Another issue has been the unintended consumption of edibles by children.
Black Market Sales
Due in no small part to the heavy taxation of legal marijuana, the black market continues to thrive. The “street price for an ounce of marijuana in Colorado is around $100. In contrast, the same product in a legal dispensary is closer $130. Police in Denver seized around 4700 pounds of illegal marijuana last year, a marked increase from 2013.
The final analysis? With any major change in society or laws, there are always unintended consequences. Legalization of marijuana is no different. Overall Colorado seems to be benefitting from the tax revenue and drop in arrests for petty drug offenses. That said, there is much that other States can learn from the Colorado experience when crafting recreational marijuana laws.
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