Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States and maybe even the world. Cannabis first became illegal for a variety of different reasons. It was also classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it had a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit. Heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, and cocaine are also Schedule I drugs. However, marijuana has less adverse reactions compared to other drugs and has been shown to have many medical benefits. Although marijuana has been illegal for over 70 years in the USA, there is a growing movement to provide cannabis for legitimate medical use and to decriminalize the recreational use of cannabis across the country.

Many people have received long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes related to cannabis production, transportation, and sale. However, the federal government recently announced that they’re focusing less on long term sentences for non-violent cannabis offences AND they’re not going to challenge new state laws in Colorado and Washington which legitimize the sale and possession of cannabis.

These new laws are seen by many as a new beginning and an end to the era of marijuana prohibition. For many, however, there is no true indication or solid prediction on how the new laws and sales of cannabis will affect the state. While there are many who are in favor of decriminalizing and stopping harsh sentences for crimes involving cannabis, no one can predict how it will go in Colorado. Colorado will serve as either a model or a precaution to other states that might want to legalize the sale and possession of cannabis.

For many years, a number of groups have advocated the end of harsh prison sentences for the possession and sale of marijuana. These same groups have now championed retail marijuana and they want the drug to be sold under government regulation and supervision. The Colorado law was put to a referendum and was passed by the majority in 2013. The sale of “retail” cannabis from state approved dispensaries began on January 1st 2014. This article  describes reactions to the new marijuana policy. Tom Angell, Chairman of the drug reform group Marijuana Majority, described how the law will allow people to see the benefits of legalizing cannabis. Angell also spoke about bringing cannabis out of the black market to allow it to be taxed, regulated, and kept away from the violent criminal enterprises that usually controls the produce and trade. Not everyone is in favor of the new measure passed by voters, however. Although the law is relatively new and the results are not fully explored, many skeptics are already denouncing the new policy. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was originally opposed to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado. The state governor also voiced his opposition to Amendment 64, the measure on the ballot which legalized cannabis. Colorado Governor Hickenlooper was quoted in the article saying, “Colorado is known for many great things — marijuana should not be one of them.”

Now, Govenor Hickenlooper seems to be singing a different tune. He is reported as saying that he believes the new policy is “common sense” and he urged federal banks to adjust their regulations to allow marijuana dispensaries to operate as a legitimate business – instead of a cash-only business that it is now. The sale of recreational cannabis has been extremely successful, according to this article. The reported total sales of retail cannabis is $5 million dollars and the industry is projected to reach nearly $600 million for the year (combined wholesale and retail marijuana sales). That’s no chump change, and better yet – the money will go towards building and renovating schools in Colorado.

The tax rate on all recreational cannabis sales is 25%, which breaks down to a 15% excise tax and a 10% sales tax,  which is estimated to generate $70 million dollars of revenue for the state. Most are predicting that the law will be successful, as long as strict regulations and rules are followed. For example, no one under the age of 21 is allowed to purchase or possess retail marijuana (the rules for medical marijuana are different, but you can find them here). You can possess up to one ounce of retail pot, but only if you are a Colorado resident. All visitors can have up to ¼ an ounce. No one is allowed to smoke in public; you can only smoke marijuana in a privately-owned residence (with permission from the property owner).

Many anti-marijuana advocates are concerned that legalizing marijuana makes it easier for children to get access. Many are also concerned about what kind of message legalizing a drug sends to young kids. In reality, we already legalized two drugs in the USA – tobacco and alcohol. Do teenagers still find ways to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes? Yes, because teenagers like to do the exact opposite of what you tell them to do. Regulating marijuana might actually make it more difficult for teenagers to get access because the regulations and rules are followed closely by business owners who are wary of bringing down  the wrath of the federal government. Teenagers will still have access to pot whether it’s through an older friend or a lax parent, but it’s the parent’s job to explain the consequences of using marijuana at a young age.

Despite the nay-sayers, there is a huge financial benefit for the dispensaries, wholesalers, and even the state which now has a new source of tax revenue. Although it’s legal, there are still many kinks to work out. One major kink is the fact that federal law still outlaws marijuana, making it difficult for banks and pot shops to work together successfully. However, there are some laws being introduced which will reform the out-dated banking laws to allow state-sanctioned cannabis businesses to conduct commercial banking transactions. The Governor of Colorado is urging federal banking officials to adjust regulations for Colorado’s marijuana businesses and allow banks to service them without fear of repercussion.

These new laws make Colorado a testing ground for the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana, and we’re all eager to see how it plays out. Besides Colorado, there are many other states where people are campaigning to decriminalize cannabis and also to legalize the sale and possession of small amounts of the drug for personal use. Some are touting the benefits of decriminalization of cannabis, but others fear the impact may be a lot more negative than anyone could have imagined. In Florida, a referendum for medical marijuana is expected to show up on the 2014 ballot. One Florida resident, a 23 year-old recent college graduate who wished to remain anonymous expressed his opinions about marijuana. He says, “I believe marijuana will have a negative impact. Most people I know who smoke weed are lazy, but then again I know some who do well. I think it depends on the persons background and work ethic.” He does not want marijuana to be legalized in Florida.

Cannabis might not have the same properties and adverse effects as other drugs, but it is a mood altering substance which can lead to dependence. The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is THC, which can impair judgment. There have also been studies which show that marijuana can have a negative affect on the developing teenage brain. Cannabis, like alcohol, is a dangerous substance that can be easily abused. There are no recorded overdoses of marijuana, however. The same cannot be said about alcohol. For now, we will wait and see how it goes in Colorado. It’s been two weeks since retail marijuana hit the shelves and things have been relatively calm. Will the legalization of cannabis encourage other states? Currently, only 21 states allow medical marijuana and 16 states have decriminalized the possession of marijuana. Federal law still outlaws the use and possession of marijuana. It appears that we will just have to wait and see what happens.


– Contributed by Guest Blogger Michael Jean