"It makes me sick...I never thought of the possibility of a grow operation in my neighborhood."
Given that 2014 was the first year that any states (Colorado and Washington) had legal recreational marijuana, it is still early to determine what effects legalization has had on those states. Analysis of these effects is complicated by the fact that, in most states and in all nations, recreational marijuana is still illegal. For example, diversion of marijuana out of state contributes to the black market, which might otherwise have declined somewhat.
Moreover, one recent study has suggested that the effects of legalization do not occur so much in response to the change in law itself, but rather in response to the change in market size. Therefore, a state like Colorado, which already had a large medical marijuana market (which was by no means used exclusively by patients), saw less change than Oregon in response to legalization of recreational marijuana; some of the effects had already occurred in the years before 2014.
Note: A significant portion of the data on the effects of legalization is from Colorado, which was quick to roll out retail sales.
Arrests for marijuana possession have reportedly decreased in Colorado, which makes sense, since possession of limited amounts of marijuana is now legal. However, the black market is thriving in all states with legalization, largely due to illegal sales of medical marijuana. Minorities continue to be arrested for marijuana possession at disproportionately high rates.
Large-scale residential home grows are often done under unsafe conditions and cause fires; they also generate pervasive odors, contribute to neighborhood blight and attract crime. Home hash oil extractions are quite hazardous and have caused explosions.
The effects of legalization on public health are largely negative.
Poisonings - both of children who were accidentally exposed to marijuana and of recreational users - have increased in Colorado. A couple of well-known cases of marijuana-induced psychosis have led to deaths.
Adult and adolescent use of marijuana has increased. Adolescent use is of particular concern as it is known to have lasting health consequences.
DUIs have increased in Colorado. However, the impact of legalization is difficult to measure, for various reasons. DUIs involving marijuana have not been tracked well in the past and may still be underreported. Marijuana intoxication is difficult to evaluate and often co-occurs with alcohol intoxication.
The economic effects of legalization seem to be a mixed bag.
On one hand, states have gained a source of tax revenue, some marijuana tourism businesses have been created, and jobs have been added. One study suggests that legalization in Colorado has raised property values.
On the other hand, Colorado actually experienced very little marijuana tourism in 2015; most of its tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales came from its own residents. The benefits of the tax revenue are offset to an unknown extent by the costs of administration, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and so on. In addition to creating jobs, the marijuana industry has also attracted a significant number of homeless people to the state.
Educate the public on the hazards associated with marijuana use, particularly by adolescents.
Enact strong labeling regulations so that marijuana products are easily identifiable as such, even after being removed from packaging.
Impose strict limits on driving under the influence of marijuana.
Prohibit home hash oil extraction.
Prohibit home grows or make home growers subject to safety inspections.
Black Market in Oregon
In Oregon, where recreational marijuana has been legalized, more marijuana is being produced in the state than is being consumed. This implies that the excess is being sold on the black market and illegally exported out of state.
Rob Patridge, chair of the Oregon liquor Control Commission, states, “Unless legalization is done on a nationwide level, we are certainly going to continue to have significant black market problems.”
Source: THC Network
Cartels in Colorado
Legalization of recreational marijuana was expected to reduce drug crime in Colorado. According to Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, however, legalization has attracted more drug-related crime.
“They use the law,” she says, “to break the law.”
Since 2013, law officials say, they have busted 88 drug cartel operations across the state, and just last year law-enforcement made a bust that recovered $12 million in illegal marijuana. Adds Coffman: “That’s crime we hadn’t previously had in Colorado.”
Source: Fortune Magazine
Spiking Incident in Colorado
A month after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, two students at the University of Colorado at Boulder poisoned several members of their history class with marijuana-laced brownies. The two brought the brownies to school to share with their unsuspecting classmates. Eight of their victims became sick; three, including the professor, were taken to the hospital. The students who provided the brownies faced multiple felony charges.
Source: Denver Post
Explosions Rise Sharply in Colorado
In the year after recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, the number of butane hash oil explosions nearly tripled, going from 11 to 31. Crude home laboratories were the source of the explosions. The legality of these operations is unclear.
Police and firefighters have had to be trained to identify hash oil explosions.
The risk of explosions and fires has come to the attention of other states as well:
In recent years, there have been dozens of explosions and injuries in other states where residents can get access to the plant through medical marijuana systems, including California, Washington state and Oregon.
In Washington state, where home pot growing isn't allowed, officials were so concerned about the dangers of producing marijuana extracts for sale in state-licensed shops that they require licensed producers to have an expensive ventilation system.
Source: Associated Press
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Segerblom sees marijuana as driving force for tourism, yet Nevada gaming industry wants nothing to do with it
This interview with Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom discusses one problem with marijuana tourism, which is that casinos become involved with marijuana use while it is federally illegal.
Segerblom describes a bill that he is sponsoring that would permit marijuana use in public venues such as social clubs, bars, concerts, parks and streets.
Source: Reno Gazette-Journal (2017)
Marijuana gap divides Colorado towns that sell pot, those that don’t
This article discusses the effects of legalization in Colorado, where each locality determines whether to permit retail marijuana sales.
It reports that Vail, a tourist town, has chosen not to legalize retail sales in order to protect its family-friendly image. The town believed that its brand was more valuable than the lost opportunity for tax revenue. Marijuana can be purchased nearby in the unincorporated county.
Vail reports issues with tourists who smoke marijuana openly, not knowing that public consumption is illegal.
The tourist town of Manitou Springs permits retail sales, and has seen a significant increase in tax revenue. It deliberately placed the retail stores far from the historic downtown district, which is frequented by tourists.
Source: The Denver Post (2016)
Have Aspen’s pot shops runneth over?
This article reports that the mayor of Aspen, Colorado, is concerned that the proliferation of retail marijuana stores in the town damages its tourist brand.
Source: The Aspen Times (2016)
Only 4% of Colorado tourists came for the legal weed in 2015, survey says
This article reports the results of a study commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office in fall of 2015. The study found that 23% of visitors were positively influenced by marijuana legalization, and 14% came to the state in spite of it.
The study reported that 11% of tourists came to Colorado because of the legal marijuana sales, and of those, 39% actually went to a dispensary - meaning that only 4% of tourists came to Colorado for marijuana and actually purchased some.
In 2014, the Colorado Department of Revenue determined that only 7% of marijuana sold in the state was sold to tourists, though in mountain communities the proportion was 90%.
The head of the Colorado Tourism Office stated, "we are talking about a very small subset of our travelers who are truly motivated by the opportunity to buy marijuana.”
Source: The Denver Post
Residents or tourists: Who are Nevada’s medical marijuana laws really intended for?
This article, written before recreational legalization, describes medical marijuana tourism in Las Vegas, offered by a company called 420 Tours. Tourists received an instant medical marijuana recommendation after video-chatting with a California doctor (California medical marijuana requirements are much looser than those in Nevada) and were then shuttled to dispensaries.
Note that Nevada's medical marijuana application process has been brought online since this article was written, and now takes one or two days.
Source: Las Vegas Sun (2016)
Emergency Room Visits Double for Marijuana-Using Colorado Visitors
This news report discusses a finding by doctors at the University of Colorado Denver, who state that, at their institution, ER visits involving marijuana by out-of-state visitors doubled during the first year of recreational marijuana legalization.
They did not observe a change in the rate of marijuana-related ER visits by Colorado residents.
One caveat is that marijuana may not have actually been a cause of some visits. However, the doctors stated that ER visits increased even after taking this into account.
Source: NBC News (2016)
From Forbidden Fruit to the Goose That Lays Golden Eggs: Marijuana Tourism in Colorado
This paper considers various issues involved with marijuana tourism in Colorado. It states that Denver had record tourism revenue in the first year after legalization (though it does not provide context for understanding this increase), but that some experts think this type of revenue will level out or decline after the initial boost.
The paper considers the possibility that marijuana prices will drop in the future, leading to lower tax revenue from marijuana tourists and/or a larger volume of such tourists.
It suggests that, with greater public acceptance of marijuana use, marijuana tourism could become a niche industry, and describes some of the businesses that have sprung up in Colorado. The authors also speculate that marijuana could come to be considered as one of many recreational amenities available to tourists. They mention that marijuana tourists tend to be older.
The paper states that, as marijuana is illegal on a federal level, state tourism agencies do not promote marijuana tourism. Colorado residents are also concerned that marijuana could damage the state's tourism brand.
The authors discuss the need for all hotels to develop marijuana policies to protect guests and workers, and the need for education to prevent tourists from overdosing on edibles.
Another concern mentioned is a tighter housing market and increase in homelessness.
Source: SAGE Open (2016)
Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations
This research paper states that unemployment in Colorado fell "more dramatically" in Colorado after legalization, but that similar effects have not been seen in Washington, Oregon or Alaska. It presents the hypothesis that:
Colorado, as the first state to open retail shops, benefitted from a “first mover advantage.” If more states legalize, any employment gains will become spread out more broadly, and marijuana tourism may diminish.
It should be noted that this paper comes from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and may therefore be biased in favor of legalization.
Source: Cato Institute (2016)
Marijuana Legalization, Government Revenues, and Public Budgets: Ten Factors to Consider
This paper presents testimony submitted to the Vermont State Senate Committee on Finance by the RAND Corporation, which had already produced a report on marijuana legalization for the Vermont Secretary of Administration.
The testimony states that Vermont's tax revenues from recreational marijuana legalization would depend heavily on the actions of other states in the region. If a neighboring state were to legalize marijuana, Vermont's tourist revenue would decrease. If the other state charged a lower tax rate, some Vermont residents might also make their purchases out of state.
It also mentions the possibility that the federal government might take steps to prevent marijuana production that is aimed at visitors from out of state.