The Surprising Effects of Legalized Recreational Marijuana
By Juliette Fairley
All eyes turned to Colorado a year ago when the first legal sale of recreational marijuana took place in Denver. The state-operated cannabis industry has flourished since, but there were a few unexpected surprises and disappointments along the way.
"The most startling aspects of the industry and the 2014 legalization of retail marijuana is that several of the state processes seem to have been completed backwards," said Kate Awada, co-founder of Awada Breen Consulting, a cannabis compliance and education specialist. "There has been no testing in the past on the medicinal side; however, it is mandatory for the recreational dispensaries to test every batch or harvest of cannabis by strain prior to sale."
The perception by some is that recreational legality of marijuana has devalued medicinal use, causing a decline in credibility for medical users.
"It is very difficult to be taken seriously due to the majority of consumers using marijuana strictly for novelty, because the law changed," Awada told MainStreet. "Many dispensaries converted their entire inventory from medical to recreational marijuana, which cut back the amount of supply available for medicinal use."
Another unexpected impact is the politics that emerged in 2014. On a federal level, a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers reportedly challenged the Drug Enforcement Administration, calling to remove the plant-based drug from Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act, which includes heroin and acid."Marijuana law reform became what was perhaps the only bipartisan issue in Congress," said Leslie Bocskor, investment banker and entrepreneur with Electrum Partners. "I was stunned to see just how fast the Colorado data came out pointing to lower crime rates."
According to data released by the Denver Police Department, the city has experienced a 14.6 percent drop in crime since Jan. 1, 2014. Property crime is also down 14 percent, and violent crime has decreased by 2.4 percent.
"The most exciting result is how efficiently many new states are working to put a legal marijuana infrastructure in place," said David Bernstein, CEO with WeedHire.com, which posts marijuana jobs. "This is not an easy process and yet Colorado has embraced being the experiment."
The social experiment of legalizing recreational pot has also resulted in some unexpected setbacks. "Congress trying to thwart the will of the voters in D.C. is pretty awful," Bocskor told MainStreet. Although on Election Day 2014 some 70 percent of voters approved Initiative 71 to legalize pot in the nation's capital, a proposed Congressional spending bill prohibits the use of local or federal funds to decriminalize or legalize it.
The biggest disappointment noted among all experts interviewed was Florida. While Oregon and Alaska experienced victories among voters, Florida suffered from a defeat when legalization failed to pass through a medical marijuana ballot initiative -- even though it received the support of 58 percent voters.
"To lose by such a small margin even after winning more than 50 percent of voter approval is very disappointing," Bernstein said. "The opportunity for jobs creation that the state of Florida missed out on is substantial, and it's sad to see people who really need it go without medicinal marijuana."