Le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana helped Colorado in many ways

The News-Times - - OPINION - By Dou­glas J. Friednash Dou­glas J. Friednash was Chief of Staff to then-Gov. John Hick­en­looper of Colorado.

Pro­fes­sional anti-cannabis ad­vo­cates have been at­tempt­ing to de­rail the le­gal­iza­tion of adult-use mar­i­juana in Con­necti­cut and other states by mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing its im­pact in other parts of the coun­try, in­clud­ing my home state of Colorado.

It’s time to set the record straight, clear the po­lit­i­cal rhetoric and pass thought­ful leg­is­la­tion in Con­necti­cut to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana for adult use.

I was once op­posed to the adult-use le­gal­iza­tion my­self. Most of our elected of­fi­cials and com­mu­nity lead­ers were con­vinced it would lead to in­creased teen use, de­stroy our econ­omy and hamper the tourism in­dus­try.

Hav­ing seen the ef­fects of le­gal­iza­tion first­hand, I can tell you none of this has come true, and my opin­ion has changed.

When Colorado vot­ers passed Amend­ment 64 in 2012 to au­tho­rize mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, I was serv­ing as Den­ver City At­tor­ney. We be­came the first ma­jor city in the United States to im­ple­ment adult use mar­i­juana. I later served as Chief of Staff to then-Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper, where our ad­min­is­tra­tion worked hard to im­prove the state’s mar­i­juana laws and reg­u­la­tion.

De­spite our worst fears, the sky didn’t fall. Colorado cre­ated a proac­tive reg­u­la­tory sys­tem that as­sessed and ad­justed along the way. The in­dus­try has helped el­e­vate Colorado as the na­tion’s strong­est econ­omy, while fos­ter­ing greater so­cial eq­uity and pub­lic health across its com­mu­ni­ties.

Since go­ing into ef­fect, le­gal adult-use cannabis has led to mas­sive eco­nomic growth. Ap­prox­i­mately 23,600 Coloradans are di­rectly em­ployed in the in­dus­try. When an­cil­lary jobs are added, that fig­ure rises to nearly 10,000 more jobs statewide. Nor are these me­nial jobs ei­ther, but good jobs pro­vid­ing good wages with open­ings at all lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence. By com­par­i­son, there are cur­rently 52,000 coal min­ing jobs and 69,000 brew­ery work­ers across the United States.

In 2018, mar­i­juana sales to­taled $1.63 bil­lion, which doesn’t ac­count for the full eco­nomic im­pact. Fur­ther, the open li­cens­ing sys­tem has al­lowed a mix of small and large busi­nesses to flour­ish and en­sure a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place.

Le­gal­iza­tion has pro­duced nearly $1 bil­lion in tax rev­enue since 2014, grow­ing to an an­nual to­tal of $266 mil­lion in 2018 alone. By en­act­ing reg­u­la­tory con­trols on adult-use cannabis, Con­necti­cut pol­i­cy­mak­ers can gen­er­ate fund­ing for schools, in­fra­struc­ture and recre­ation, in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing sup­port for com­mu­ni­ties that have been dis­pro­por­tion­ately harmed by decades of pro­hi­bi­tion and a failed war on drugs.

Of crit­i­cal im­por­tance, re­spon­si­ble reg­u­la­tory con­trols on adult-use cannabis have also proven key to pro­mot­ing so­cial eq­uity and pub­lic health in Colorado. Con­necti­cut’s com­mu­ni­ties would ben­e­fit sim­i­larly.

From 2012 to 2017, mar­i­juana ar­rests de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly in Den­ver, in­clud­ing re­duc­tions of 64% and 89% in the ar­rests of His­panic and black res­i­dents, re­spec­tively. To­gether, le­gal­iza­tion and ex­punge­ment poli­cies can ac­com­plish greater so­cial eq­uity than de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion alone.

There is grow­ing data that demon­strates that le­gal­iza­tion has also helped Colorado di­min­ish its re­liance on opi­oids, lead­ing to a de­crease in pre­scrip­tions for painkiller­s and opi­oid-re­lated deaths. A study from Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia found that states with med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws had lower rates of opi­oid use. In Colorado, pos­i­tive drug tests for Colorado’s work­force have fallen since 2012. The rate of pos­i­tive opi­ates tests in Colorado is now half the na­tional av­er­age.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across Con­necti­cut are strug­gling to con­front the in­ter­twined opi­oid and heroin crises that have rav­aged lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties with hun­dreds of fa­tal­i­ties statewide in re­cent years. Health care providers and pa­tients agree that le­gal­iza­tion, rather than med­i­cal mar­i­juana ex­pan­sion, is the most ef­fec­tive way to re­move bu­reau­cratic ob­sta­cles to pa­tient ac­cess and com­bat opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

More­over, Colorado has not ex­pe­ri­enced an in­crease in mar­i­juana use among young peo­ple. In fact, grad­u­a­tion rates have in­creased since the pas­sage of Amend­ment 64 while dropout rates have de­creased.

Of course, no reg­u­la­tory sys­tem is per­fect and there is al­ways room to im­prove pub­lic pol­icy. But in the end, we suc­cess­fully en­cour­aged the growth of many le­gal busi­nesses and pro­moted per­sonal free­dom through guide­lines for pos­ses­sion and per­sonal cul­ti­va­tion. As re­sult, we were able to free many of our cit­i­zens from an il­licit mar­ket that sup­ported car­tels and en­dan­gered con­sumers, while fos­ter­ing greater so­cial eq­uity, pub­lic health ben­e­fits, and re­li­able tax rev­enue.

With the rest of the na­tion watch­ing, Con­necti­cut law­mak­ers can make the same im­pact by le­gal­iz­ing adult-use cannabis in the com­ing months. Con­necti­cut has an op­por­tu­nity to learn from both our mis­steps and suc­cesses in Colorado, and im­ple­ment an even stronger reg­u­la­tory sys­tem that moves Con­necti­cut for­ward eco­nom­i­cally and eq­ui­tably.

David Zalubowski / As­so­ci­ated Press

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