With amendment 64 on the November ballot for Colorado it is time to really consider the implications of what legal recreational marijuana means for Colorado. We already have legal medical marijuana in Colorado, and now we are looking at possibly allowing adults to possess and use for recreation.
There are a number of things to consider, both positive and negative, when looking at legalizing marijuana. If the amendment passes, it will have effects financially, legally, and socially. On a financial basis we could possibly have increased tax revenue and increased funding for schools, but also possibly increased administration costs and an increase in state employees required to handle a new load of registrations and fees. On the legal side of things, many statutes and laws would have to be rewritten if Colorado opts to legalize marijuana and new statutes and laws will need to be added that define who can have it, use it, where it can be, and regulate how and where it can be produced and sold. The social implications would vary from people being more open about use and possibly eliminating and entire black market of marijuana dealers.
While extra revenue without increasing other taxes is nice, we must consider what costs would also be incurred in order to regulate and process the required fees and licensing. Most people would agree that taxing the products involved similarly to alcohol or tobacco would be necessary but there doesn't seem to be a clear cut income to expenditure analysis.
The legal side would likely be the easiest of the three points to adjust too as most of the changes are covered by the amendment itself and would take effect upon its passage. The only real ramifications seem to be adjustments on the local level where local governments can opt to ban the production and sale in their jurisdictions but not the use of marijuana under the amendment. The other aspect being looked at is what to do with people currently serving sentences for crimes that would no longer exist, would they be set free and have their record of the event expunged or simply continue to serve their sentence as ordered. Obviously less people in the jails and prisons for marijuana crimes would open up space for more serious offenders as well as cut costs to house, feed, and give medical care to those incarcerated for marijuana.
The social changes are likely the largest and most obvious effects. With legalization, much of the stigma of using marijuana would begin to fade away. It is already known that many people currently use marijuana for recreation illegally. Right now those people buy and sell marijuana on a black market that is not taxed and funds mostly nefarious enterprises. It is very likely that many of these would disappear when the funding for them dries up. The amendment does not allow for public use of the drug, so it is expected that those using it legally would do so in their own homes or designated establishments. The legal age would be 21, similarly to alcohol, and driving under marijuana's influence would still constitute a DUI.
The last point comes down to health. While using anything like marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco is unhealthy, having a black market with no way to check purity of product leaves a slew of other possible health issues unchecked. There are many stories of people buying marijuana only to end up getting a surprise dose of another, more addictive drug added in. "Lacing" is a common practice to get people addicted to drugs like heroin, PCP and cocaine, and using a drug as common as marijuana to get new users hooked.
There is truly a ton of information and "what if" situations to consider with this amendment and it should not be taken lightly. It is not as simple as are we going to let people get high, but has the ability to change the state’s financial situation, legal landscape, and alter the social sphere. It would be wise for anyone planning to vote either way on this measure to look through all of the information and try to make a truly informed decision.