David Zalubowski / AP

Advocates hail Colorado legal pot as success

A year after state legalized the drug, business groups and public officials say new rules help Colorado

A year of legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado has brought the Rocky Mountain state significant savings, reduced crime rates and tax revenue gains from the sale of the plant and its byproducts, according to a study published Tuesday by a drug policy reform group.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) examined state statistics and found Colorado saved millions of dollars because it was no longer locking up as many people for marijuana violations. Police arrested only 1,464 people for marijuana-related offenses, compared to 9,011 in 2010 before legalization, according to the study.

"Given that arrests such as these cost roughly $300 to adjudicate, it is reasonable to infer that the state is saving millions in adjudicatory costs" for marijuana-related arrests and prosecutions, the study said. 

Additionally, tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales brought in at least $40.9 million into the state’s coffers.

“We’ve had great experience in Colorado and we hope the rest of the country can learn from that,” Rep. Jared Polis, D-CO, said Tuesday during a teleconference. “I’m encouraged by the general direction.”

The Colorado law, approved by voters in a 2012 referendum, legalizes the possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana plants for adults 21 and over. 

Crime rates have dipped since Colorado enacted the law, according to the report. It found a 9.5 percent drop in burglaries in Denver and an 8.9 percent decline in overall property crime in the city.

“The doomsday vision of those who support continued prohibition has not come to fruition,” said Art Way, the DPA’s Colorado director.

Way, who called marijuana a “gateway” into the criminal justice system elsewhere, said the Colorado law had made the system less unfair. Black people are up to eight times more likely to face arrest for marijuana offenses than white people, according to an ACLU study. 

Andrew Freeman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, said legalization had paid for itself but was not an answer to all of the state’s funding needs.

“There’s been too much emphasis on money. It’s not something that you do to fill budget shortfalls,” Freeman said.

He said marijuana tax revenue had been able to pay for the costs of regulating the drug, and had funded programs intended to keep youth away from abusing substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

The report also noted that fears of a spike in traffic fatalities, voiced by the Colorado Dept. of Transportation, did not materialize. Deaths dipped a bit in the first 11 months of 2014, down to 436 from 449 the year before.

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