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A legal marijuana grow in Colorado. (Photo: Brett Levin/cc/flickr)

Year After Colorado Legalizes, Advocates Say: It's All Good in Pot-land

Report by marijuana legalization advocates highlights decrease in crime while marking increases in tax revenue, economic output, and funding for community programs

Lauren McCauley

Marking roughly one year since the first marijuana shop opened its doors in Colorado, advocates are declaring the country's first experiment in full legalization a success.

According to a study (pdf) released Tuesday by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), since legal marijuana sales began on January 1, 2014, the state has "benefited from a decrease in crime rates, a decrease in traffic fatalities, an increase in tax revenue and economic output from retail marijuana sales, and an increase in jobs."

In 2013, Coloradans over 21 were first permitted to possess an ounce of marijuana for private use. Beginning last year, residents were able to purchase the drug from state-regulated dispensaries.

According to statistics compiled by the DPA, in the first 11 months of 2014, the rate of violent crime fell 2.2 percent compared with the same period in 2013. In the same time frame, burglaries in Colorado's capital, Denver, decreased by 9.5 percent and overall property crime decreased by 8.9 percent.

Further, arrests for marijuana possession have continually dropped since 2010 and are now down roughly 84 percent.

"We’ve had great experience in Colorado and we hope the rest of the country can learn from that," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis during a Tuesday press call, which was held to discuss the encouraging results. "I’m encouraged by the general direction."

In November, full legalization measures passed in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. And five states—Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada—are expected to vote on legalization in 2016.

The DPA report also touts the drop in traffic fatalities in 2014 (3 percent from 2013), a statistic which flies in the face of critics who claimed that the legalization of marijuana would lead to an increase in traffic fatalities. 

"The doomsday vision of those who look to maintain prohibition has not come to fruition," said Art Way, Colorado director for the DPA.

While crime has decreased, the state has benefited economically from the program.

According to Colorado's Department of Revenue, the state collected $40.9 million in tax revenue from retail marijuana sales between January 2014 and October 2014. Roughly $9 billion of that revenue has been set aside for various youth drug use education and prevention programs.

The report cites the work of Jack Strauss, an economist at the University of Denver, who assessed the economic impact of just two dispensaries in Denver and found they contributed roughly 280 jobs and $30 million in total economic output between January 1, 2014 and June 30, 2014, and that "the two dispensaries contribute 10 times the tax revenue of either a typical restaurant or retail store." Further, the average wage for workers at the two stores was $17 an hour. 

In a late December column touting some of these end-of-year statistics, Way concluded: "Colorado is being real and facing the fact marijuana is here to stay. In doing so, we are establishing a public health approach to minimize the potential harms of marijuana."

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