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One Year Later, Legal Weed is Working Just Fine in Colorado

Despite prognostications that legalized recreational marijuana would turn our pristine state into a hellish dystopia, we're probably more utopian than ever.

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One year later, Colorado is still standing. Despite prognostications from some that legalized recreational marijuana would cause a spike in criminal behavior and drug abuse, and turn our pristine state into a hellish dystopia, it turns out we’re probably more utopian than ever.

Even after 12 months, some of these metrics still can’t be conclusively measured, but through the first two-thirds of 2014, highway fatalities here were decreasing so much that they were flirting with historic lows. Similarly, past-month use of the drug among teens decreased between 2011 and 2013. This period occurred before recreational legalization took effect, of course, but it also unfolded well into Colorado’s medical marijuana expansion. Teen use could go up again at any time for any number of reasons, but most of the public service messaging around legalization has stressed its danger to adolescents, so for now it appears those efforts are having an impact.

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In short, the quality-of-life issues some people were so worried about simply haven’t come to fruition in any widespread way. That’s why more than 90 percent of us who voted for legalization the first time would do it again.

This year, the Colorado Legislature will likely address some of the remaining concerns, namely, continuing to hone the methods for screening and penalizing “drugged drivers,” and ironing out the banking regulations that are forcing many marijuana businesses to continue dealing only in cash (due to marijuana’s ongoing federal prohibition). But as legalization spreads, so too should the pressure on Washington to do what it can to loosen the contradictions.

(Read about the short, happy life of one marijuana plant)

Speaking of the federal ban, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma recently sued Colorado on the grounds that legalization is creating issues for law enforcement in their own states. Although this may seem concerning on the surface, this article outlines the blatant hypocrisy behind the suit and why it will probably go nowhere (for good reason).

If legalization has come up short in any obvious area, it’s that tax revenue is slightly more modest than it was projected to be. But this is because the medical marijuana market isn’t subject to the same taxes, which is what’s keeping registered medical users—including yours truly—from fully diving into recreational sales. (The high taxes are keeping the black market afloat as well.)

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Colorado lawmakers may address this in 2015 by more closely aligning the medical and recreational economic models, and one way to do it would be to lower the recreational taxes. This would motivate more people to eschew the hassle and cost of getting a medical red card or buying on the black market, thus raising overall state revenues and subtracting some of the criminal elements from the equation. Regardless, a more cohesive policy between medical and recreational marijuana would go a long way toward rectifying some of the lingering issues.

As more states swing toward legalization, Colorado will still be the movement’s guiding light. It’s only been a year in an experiment that may take a decade or more to fully evaluate, but from what we’ve seen so far, the results have been mostly encouraging.

(Check out the A-to-Z guide to legalized marijuana)

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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