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Michigan could learn a lot from Colorado's experience with legal pot

Aug 25, 2015

Credit flickr user Eljoja / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

When it comes to the issue of marijuana – to legalize or not to legalize – Michigan seems to be about where Colorado was not too long ago.

Colorado had over a decade to experiment with medical marijuana before legalizing its recreational use in November 2012, which Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus tells us gave the state ample opportunity to figure out how marijuana can fit into the political and business landscape.

“Medical marijuana was huge. The state then decided, hey, we need to regulate this thing,” he says.

The state developed strict regulations on licensing at both the local and state level, according to Markus.

They removed felons from the marijuana business, introduced a tracking system to determine how marijuana was flowing through the state, and hired inspectors to ensure that the dispensaries popping up all over the place were operating according to the new rules.

Markus tells us that the final push to get marijuana legalized in 2012 was a team effort.

“Republicans and Democrats came together and said, let’s find a way to make this work on the up-and-up. Let’s take this industry out of the shadows,” he says. “It wasn’t just the grassroots people, it was the politicians and those people coming together and pushing this thing forward and making it legitimate.”

A year after voting to legalize, Colorado passed Proposition AA, establishing a 15% excise tax and a 10% tax on marijuana sales.

“Last year the state brought in about $70 million in taxes,” Markus says. “Not huge, not budget-busting kind of numbers, but certainly … millions of dollars are not being turned away.”

Markus tells us that there is still concern surrounding the effects of legal marijuana in Colorado, specifically how it will impact the state’s children and culture, but, “it’s just too soon to say where this thing is going.”

There are however some tangible effects that have risen to attention in the year and a half since legalization, notable examples including a dramatic decrease in possession charges and a dramatic increase in public consumption, according to Markus.

“They buy their marijuana in a store, and they walk out and they realize, there’s nowhere legal to smoke it,” he says.

He estimates the number of public consumption tickets issued since legalization has risen as much as 500%, but adds that the state is looking for ways to provide safe and legal places for people without a permanent residence in Colorado to consume marijuana as a way to address the issue.

The federal government still prohibits the use and distribution of marijuana, and Markus tells us that while that doesn’t really interfere with the day-to-day for most consumers, it can make business complicated.

Banks and insurance agencies are hesitant to work with marijuana businesses in Colorado because they are regulated by the federal government, he tells us.

“No, the federal government is not coming into Colorado and busting down doors and arresting people for selling marijuana, but it is making it very difficult to do business in this state without opening up all the things that normal businesses take for granted,” he says.

Ben Markus tells us more about Colorado’s experience so far with legal marijuana in our conversation above.

– Ryan Grimes, Stateside