Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in the state of Colorado, was not met with universal enthusiasm. Among the bill’s proponents, however, was Brian Vicente, one of its authors. Vicente is on record as stating that every major institution in the state predicted doom and gloom should the bill pass. Yet as the new year came and went, as Vicente put it, “the sky did not fall.”
Meanwhile, the nation is watching. Many consider the bill to be a pilot project for national legalization. Most Americans are in favor of turning the possession of marijuana into a civil offence, or else ending its prohibition altogether. There’s no doubt that what happens in Colorado in the next few years will shape legislation nationwide. So far, at least in the fiscal sense, everything appears to be going quite well.
Dubbed the “Highest State,” Colorado earned more than $2 million in cannabis taxes in January of 2014. The state earned over $3 million when tax revenues from medical cannabis sales are added in. That’s $3 million that the state can funnel straight into teachers’ salaries, or public roads—or pretty much anything that state legislators want. The state is predicting that they may earn over $40 million in 2014 alone. For perspective, that’s around 1% of tech giant Apple’s yearly earnings.
Precisely how the state taxes the herb is rather complex. There’s a 10% sales tax for all retail marijuana sales statewide, and this jumps to around 20% once local taxes are factored in. On top of that, the state levies a 15% excise tax on all marijuana sales. This tax is paid by the retailer, although the retailer is within their rights to raise their prices to compensate. So while the end customer doesn’t technically pay it, they practically do. Denver county sees the highest marijuana taxes, while outside areas see taxes closer to 15%.
Critics of marijuana legalization are quick to point to isolated incidents as evidence that wacky weed is dangerous, ignoring the fact that marijuana has always been widely available, legal or not. Among the critics are many members of law enforcement, as well as a small group of doctors and emergency room personnel.
These individuals tout the story of Kristine Kirk, who was shot dead by her husband in 2014, as evidence that marijuana legalization is dangerous. Kirk’s husband, Richard Kirk, was supposedly intoxicated by the marijuana-laced candy known as “Karma Kandy Orange Ginger” at the time of the murder. However, Kirk was also under the influence of prescription drugs. As tragic as this situation is, it is also incredibly complex, and blaming marijuana use may be a bit of a cop-out. Sadly, while Kirk’s 911 call lasted 12 minutes, there is a police station only five minutes from her home.
Proponents of marijuana legalization claim that critics are carefully picking and choosing stories to promote in order to hamper the fledgling industry in any way they can. Here are the facts: Most marijuana dispensaries are following the rules—the $2,000 application fee helps with that, granted—and they’ve collectively sold product to hundreds of thousands of the state’s citizens without incident. What’s more, violent crime in Denver is down so far in 2014. Armed robbery specifically saw a drop of 4.8 percent in April. Critics may argue that there’s no direct correlation here, but they may have a hard time substantiating that claim as it’s the crux of their resistance to illicit drug legalization in the first place.
There’s still room for improvement in the state, and the matter is far from settled. While marijuana related arrests are down, some police precincts are becoming notorious for ticketing public smokers. Additionally, there is concern that parents are not securing their purchased pot-infused cookies and chocolates. In early 2014, a North Colorado fourth grader pilfered such a treat from her grandmother and sold it to a fellow student. Says John Gates, the director of school and safety and security for the child’s school district, “For crying out loud, secure your weed.” All in all, and aside from a few tragedies that may or may not have anything to do with cannabis, as a pilot project for national weed legalization, Amendment 64 is promising.