The Marijuana Debate at 5 Months Post Legalization

Yesterday the New York Times featured an article about the marijuana legalization debate. It covered the arguments on both sides five months after the start of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado. 

Although five months isn’t enough time to see real data, proponents and opponents have discerned some conclusions over whether legalization is helping or harming the state (and surrounding states). The main arguments surfacing – many based off of recent events – are as follows:

Opponents of Legalization

  • Hospitals are treating more adults and children after they’ve ingested potent doses of marijuana 
  • A Denver man killed his wife after consuming Karma Kandy, a potent marijuana candy 
  • A Congolese exchange student starting acting erratically and jumped to his death off of a hotel balcony after eating a marijuana cookie. The Medical Examiner’s Office said marijuana was a “significant” contribution to the accident. 
  • The number of stoned drivers coming from CO seems to be on the rise in neighboring states 
  • Purchased Marijuana from CO is moving across state lines 
  • More kids are using marijuana or accidentally ingesting products that seem kid friendly – i.e. gummy bears, cookies etc. 
  • There has been rise in home explosions across the state from people using flammable butane to make hashish oil according to police and fire officials 

Proponents of Legalization 

  • Hundreds of thousands of customers have purchased and used marijuana products without negative incidents 
  • The marijuana industry has generated over $12 million in taxes and fees to date 
  • Violent crimes and overall crime in Denver are down so far this year despite marijuana retailers being in “bad” neighborhoods 

Most of these incidents and anecdotes have limited hard data associated with them. Also, as the article pointed out, because health statistics can take awhile to be published, the impact of marijuana on child or teen drug use, arrests or car accidents may not be known for years.

One notable fact is that Justice Department officials warned that they would intervene in states where marijuana was becoming legalized if it proved to be contributing to violence, trafficking across state lines or directly impacting children. The big question is how many acts of violence, trafficking or incidents involving children will it take for them to intervene? It is also questionable if any real interventions will lag along with gathering and publishing hard data on these events.

For a more in depth look at how legalization has impacted Colorado, please read the article, Colorado’s Landmark Marijuana Experiment: A Journey Into the System Reveals Dangers and Opportunities. This two part article was written by Marvin Ventrell, JD Director of Community and Alumni Relations at Harmony Foundation. He will be speaking on these topics at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders in St. Louis in August.