Originally published in Tikkun Daily
After six months of legal marijuana in the State of Colorado, crime has decreased significantly and revenue is up, demonstrating just how beneficial legalization can be and just how wrong prohibition proponents who chirped the sky will fall have been.
As Laura Pegram notes, while it's too early in the game to make any definitive conclusions about marijuana legalization, the following data points and trends are significant:
This last point is particularly important from a both the standpoints of social justice and economics. First, the social justice angle: between 2001-2010, 52 percent of all drug arrests in America were for marijuana, with the vast majority of those arrested holding small amounts of the drug. To give some perspective, in 2010 alone, some 7 million people were arrested for possession, and most of those arrested were black, despite comparable usage statistics between blacks and whites.
- According to Uniform Crime Reporting data for Denver, there has been a 10.1% decrease in overall crime from this time last year and a 5.2% drop in violent crime.
- The state has garnered over 10 million in taxes from retail sales in the first 4 months. The first 40 million of this tax revenue is earmarked for public schools and infrastructure, as well as for youth educational campaigns about substance use.
- The marijuana industry has developed quickly, generating thousands of new jobs. It is estimated there are currently about 10,000 people directly involved with this industry, with 1,000 to 2,000 gaining employment in the past few months alone.
- Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who opposed Amendment 64, recently compared Colorado’s economy since legalization to that of other states by noting, “While the rest of the country’s economy is slowly picking back up, we’re thriving here in Colorado.” For example, the demand for commercial real estate has increased drastically, with houses in the state appreciating up to 8.7 percent in the past year alone.
- By removing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related offenses, thousands of individuals will avoid the collateral consequences associated with a criminal record. The state is estimated to potentially save $12-40 million over the span of a year simply by ending arrests for marijuana possession.
Second, the economics angle: according to the ACLU, states spend over $3.5 billion every year enforcing marijuana laws, to say nothing of incarceration expenses, the loss of productive citizens and the damage done to family structures and our social fabric. This is money being wasted on the enforcement of policies that actually harm, rather than benefit, society, as evidenced by what is happening in Colorado.
Bottom line: more states should follow the lead set by Colorado (and Washington State), and I suspect with over 50 percent of Americans favoring legalization, follow they will.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, recently published by Oneworld Publications.