In time leading up to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, there were many predictions of terrible consequences from all sides. However, the numbers on both crime and budget show that the legalization policy has had a very positive impact on the state.
In 2012, David Weaver, the Sheriff of Douglas County which encompasses Denver, predicted: “more crime, more kids using marijuana and pot for sale everywhere.” Similarly, during the legalization debate Colorado Governer John Hickenlooper fretted: “ Colorado is known for many great things—marijuana should not be one of them.. . .I think our entire state will pay the price.”
However, crime rates in Denver have fallen drastically since legalization as they have throughout Colorado. Marijuana-related arrests historically made up about half of all drug-related crime in Colorado. The state government has now released data which shows that both the Denver city and Douglas County murder rates have dropped by more than 50% compared to 2013 since the January legalization of recreational marijuana use. In fact, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that by legalizing marijuana Colorado saved $12 to $40 million in 2012 alone.
The Colorado budget has been boosted just as much as crime has shrunk since legalization. The marijuana industry itself has created at least 10,000 jobs—2,000 in the past several months. In February 2014 marijuana sales earned $14 million, and in March 2014 that number jumped to $19 million. And the first four months in 2014 saw in excess of $10 million in tax from retail marijuana sales taken in that will support Colorado infrastructure. The state will gain approximately $134 million in taxes from its estimated $1 billion in marijuana sales in the coming fiscal year. $600 million of that sales figure is expected to come from retail establishments—50% more than what officials expected at first.
Can we expect other states—or the Feds—to follow suit? In part, yes. The Department of Drug Enforcement (DEA) is requesting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take marijuana off the roster of most dangerous drugs. It's just one step, but it's an important one, according to most legalization advocates.
This November will see another critical battle over marijuana legalization, this time in Washington D.C. The city will almost certainly be voting on a legalization measure, and it is likely to pass. If it does, the fight will move on to be between the city of Washington D.C. and Congress; these battles are typically perceived as proving grounds for local laws throughout the rest of the country.
Now is definitely the time for this kind of measure to be tested: the majority of Americans now favor legalization of marijuana. This number has climbed steadily since the 1990s, when the amount of money spent on drug control, including marijuana enforcement, began to skyrocket. This was not in response to the numbers of drug addicts, however; the percentage of Americans addicted to drugs has remained fairly constant since the 1970s.