After a year, it appears that legalization might just work

Courtesy of Business Wire

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one full year since retail cannabis shops opened, and two full years that cannabis has been legal in Colorado. So much has happened, but the best news of all is that, all things considered, the experiment seems to be working.

There is no real way to tell after a year how legalization has affected the people who live in a state that dared to try something no state had ever attempted. But despite cannabis still being prohibited on a federal level (but legal in the city where the government resides), Colorado and Washington’s new laws continue to show that legalization is a viable alternative to the so-called war on drugs.

The state was a madhouse 365 days ago, with national and international media parked in front of the few dispensaries that were open for legalization’s first day. Accounts of long lines outside shops, high prices and product shortages dominated the news. The media atmosphere was intense, almost like everybody was staked out, waiting around for something bad to happen.

But nothing did. And today many Coloradans now stop by and pick up their cannabis on their way to King Soopers or the shopping center.

There have been hiccups. Probably the biggest concerned edibles. Early news stories concentrated on an apparent suicide and a domestic murder after edibles ingestion, and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in a widely distributed column, reported feeling like she was going to die after eating too much of an edible.

Since edibles make up a healthy percentage of state retail sales (probably 30-40 percent), the majority of people obviously don’t have a problem with edible dosages. Still, medical patients have used higher-dosage edibles for years, and moving those same products into a market of unprepared newbies produced some confusion.

The legislative solution isn’t perfect, but now retail clients have access to lower-dosage edibles to better learn their limits. You can’t overdose on cannabis, but you could have an unpleasant, Dowd-like experience, and hopefully, the attention to dosage will help alleviate much of that. And as far as I can see, there isn’t much more the state can do to protect people from themselves.

Finally, just a word about a couple of things I hope we don’t repeat in 2015. The first is Gov. John Hickenlooper’s “scare teens campaign” that included life-sized lab rat cages in locations around the state. Just behind that is the great Halloween “cannabis candy” scare promoted by the Denver Police Department and anti-cannabis groups.

The guv’s $2 million, highly publicized, high-intensity advertising boondoggle was so badly thought out and in such poor taste that the Boulder County School District, certainly no fan of cannabis use among children, came out publicly against it.

The Halloween candy scare was promoted by the Denver Police Department, which has opposed legalization without ever explaining why its own efforts to uphold prohibition have never worked, either.

Media coverage reached fever pitch in the days leading up to Halloween, with television announcers suggesting to gullible parents that evil pot smokers, who are paying high prices for edibles, would not hesitate to dose innocent children. If the implications weren’t so clichéd, they would be offensive, and, of course, there were no reported lacedcandy incidents in the state, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Both of these are typical of continued, failed policies promoted by those who have a stake in and want to continue the war against cannabis, much to the consternation of a majority of the country’s voters, who continue to send the opposite message to state legislators.

Both outline a pervasive feeling among some officials that making cannabis legal for adults also makes more teenagers want to try it. While there is no actual evidence of that so far, they continue to insist that legalization is encouraging young people.

But as the “lab rat” campaign proved, trying to scare kids into not using cannabis just doesn’t work. And as the last 40 years of federal policy has shown, it will never work.

Last year, during a stakeholder’s meeting on edibles, Gina Carbone of SmartColorado said that legalization has made parenting harder.

That’s the part that really baffles me. Does studying the issues and actually talking with your children honestly about the pros and cons of cannabis like you would about tobacco, alcohol or sex or anything else important really make parents’ jobs more difficult? Why would parenting have been any easier when cannabis was illegal and kids were getting it on the black market?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse just released its annual Monitoring the Future survey of 50,000 high school students. NIDA generally funds only research that studies cannabis “abuse.” But its own survey shows a slight decline in students reporting cannabis use in the years since states have begun legalizing.

“Now that the national conversation about marijuana is ‘above ground,’ parents and teachers are able to have honest conversations with teens based on sound science, health and safety,” says Marsha Rosenbaum of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The declines in use revealed in [Monitoring the Future] may well indicate that teens are listening, and choosing to make wise decisions.”

I couldn’t put it any better. Happy new year, everybody.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU. 


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