Analyzing Colorado's grand experiment


Advocates told the people of Colorado that legalization of marijuana would unclog prisons, help fund education, produce new revenue for the general fund and hobble drug cartels. An important part of the new plan and theme for the passage of Amendment 64 was that regulation was a better idea to mitigate marijuana’s effects on our state.

The state and national media have reported on the progress of Colorado’s grand experiment, describing it mainly as a forward-thinking renaissance. In a nationally televised “60 Minutes” broadcast, a Colorado-based marijuana industry executive claimed that Colorado has done a “phenomenal job” regulating marijuana.

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The Gazette created a special project team made up of editorial staff and a seasoned reporter to look into these claims and compare them to information compiled after a year of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado. We wanted to examine whether the claims of legalization are on a path to becoming realized. We also looked for stories that have not been reported to create a clearer picture of the state of the industry.

Gazette researchers have spoken with local, regional and national experts in law enforcement, medicine and public policy about Colorado’s experiment with legal sales and use of medical and recreational marijuana. We looked at data the state has compiled and consulted with drug users, their families and their friends.

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Unlike Denver and several other cities, Colorado Springs did not approve recreational sales of marijuana. Yet our research found a flourishing black market of recreational pot procured as medicine and resold on the street. One teenager spoke in detail about clearing more than $1,000 a day by selling medical marijuana at local high schools.

Medical professionals told us about marijuana’s harmful effects on the developing brains of teens and young adults. Drug treatment centers report spikes in admissions since legalization.

Meanwhile, tax revenues have failed to meet projections. While the public reads about how much tax revenue legalization has generated, state leaders have provided no adequate cost-benefit analysis to quantify costs associated with the drug’s use and abuse. Colorado isn’t even equipped to gather such data.

There are also numerous and growing reports of unintended consequences of legalization, including more arrests for driving under the influence, lawsuits against the state, manufacturing hazards, the impact on resources for the homeless and a growing concern over exposure and availability to children.

We hope this examination of Colorado since legalization will provide a new perspective on an issue that may shape up to be a public health, safety and policy quagmire for the ages.

The reporting team: editorial board members Pula Davis and Wayne Laugesen and local reporter Christine Tatum.

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