Back in 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for those over the age of 21. The state that has long been the leader in marijuana legalization has seen a lot of success from the budding industry. The small city of Pueblo, for instance, has especially felt the excitement of the marijuana industry. This area of Colorado has nearly 200 marijuana farms and is quickly becoming the backbone of the ever-expanding industry. This industry is growing huge for the region, creating more jobs, more opportunities for creative entrepreneurs, attracting more tourism, raising the tax revenues, and much more.
However, the marijuana industry in Colorado isn’t just all sunshine and rainbows; some are concerned about the problems the marijuana industry attracts. Their chief argument is that the legalization has attracted more crime to the region. Out-of-state cartels are attracted to the region, and they’re experiencing spikes in crime. They also blame legalization for the next generation’s viewpoint that marijuana is entirely harmless. Despite the booming success you’ve heard being ranted and raved over, the effects of legalization are a mixed bag for sure.
A look inside dispensaries
Those that work behind the counter of dispensaries are known as “budtenders.” These budtenders are trained to know all of their dispensaries’ products well enough to make recommendations or assist customers. Three categories of marijuana are typically sold in dispensaries: indicas, which are best to encourage relaxation and sleep; sativas, which are typically used for a more cerebral high during the daytime; and hybrids that are some combination of both. The marijuana found in these dispensaries is much stronger than was previously found in the United States. For example, the THC content (the cannabinoid that makes users feel high) in marijuana that was federally seized in 2014 (12%) was found to be far higher than that of marijuana seized in 1995 (4%), but neither of those holds a candle to what’s being sold in dispensaries around Colorado that contain 20% or more THC.
Flower and concentrates aren’t the only thing dispensaries sell, either. In addition to these items, dispensaries carry all sorts of edibles, which are treats laced with cannabis. They have everything from gummy bears and chocolate bars to waffle cones and cookies and even fruit punch and root beer. They also offer honey, sugar, and artificial sweeteners that are infused with cannabis, perfect for putting them in tea or coffee.
The legal sides of dispensaries
Colorado regulates and licenses recreational marijuana and medical marijuana separately, meaning that there are both medical dispensaries and recreational dispensaries. Medical marijuana was legalized a full 13 years before recreational was in Colorado, but sales have been dropping for medical in the more recent years. However, the recreational side of things has been booming since it launched. In 2017 alone, dispensaries reported selling $1.1 billion of marijuana, which is more than triple the amount that was sold back in 2014, when it launched.
Despite recreational marijuana usage being legalized statewide in nine states across the United States including Colorado, some areas of those legal states have restrictions on their legalities. Certain cities choose not to allow dispensaries at all, while others designate a particular number of dispensaries they are willing to let open in their community. Despite that, there are 533 recreational dispensaries in Colorado.
Most people have heard the benefits of marijuana stated over and over again, but what often goes unnoticed are the potential side effects. Back when Pueblo first voted on allowing dispensaries in 2016, a group of 237 physicians signed an opposition to it due to these often unpublicized side effects. One of the more concerning side effects is an increased risk of psychosis. This risk is even higher for adolescents; a connection has been made between regular marijuana use in adolescents and schizophrenia. In 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “teens who use marijuana regularly may develop serious mental health disorders, including addiction, depression, and psychosis.” They went on to say that the potential negative effects of marijuana include the following: “impaired short-term memory and decreased concentration, attention span, and problem-solving skills… alterations in motor control, coordination, judgment, reaction time, and tracking ability.”
The number of those coming into Colorado’s emergency rooms seeking medical attention while under the influence of marijuana has increased. However, they reached this conclusion by reviewing the records of patients who were drug tested and tested positive for marijuana, not based on their reason for going to the emergency room in the first place. This means that it could be a correlation, but not necessarily causation.
Doctors in Colorado have also been seeing an increase in women who are pregnant using marijuana. The percentage of newborns born with marijuana in their system (tested positive for marijuana) has grown to nearly six percent of all births in the last year. A study published by the Colorado School of Medicine last month concluded that almost 70% of dispensaries in Colorado recommend marijuana use to curb morning sickness in the first-trimester.
There are many other problematic effects marijuana can have. Marijuana-related fatalities on the road have doubled since the legalization of adult recreational use became legal. Smoking marijuana can also cause an increased risk of developing bronchitis. Some studies have even linked marijuana use to depression and suicide. There’s also a new affliction doctors have reported seeing in Colorado known as cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, called “scromiting” on the street due to its symptoms involving vomiting and screaming simultaneously. Little is known about this condition other than the fact that it seems to affect those that have been using marijuana long-term mostly.
Due to federal prohibitions and restrictions on marijuana, there are limited scientific studies available on their potential consequences and benefits. Many physicians believe that, due to this, Colorado should have considered a safer and more careful approach to legalization, rather than implement the regulations and merely adjust them as problems crop up. The issue of marijuana products from dispensaries getting into the hands of teenagers is becoming a growing concern. In Pueblo alone, 30% of students have reported using marijuana in the past month, making it have the highest rate of teens using marijuana in the state. Those working with teens in Pueblo report that attitudes have become more accepting of marijuana and drug use is increasing. Two surveys were done in 2015 and 2017, state that 86% of school-resource officers and 68% of school guidance counselors believe the legalization of marijuana led to the increase in marijuana-related incidents.
The pot rush
We’ve all learned about the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s and early 1850s; now there’s the Colorado Pot Rush. Real estate and rent prices are spiking in legal areas, as more and more people move to the towns in hopes of smoking more freely or seeking a job in the lucrative industry. However, the jobs remaining are few and far between, as are the homes in which to live. This results in the masses of people migrating to the region having to live in shantytowns and lean-tos, unable to get a job or pay rent. The numbers of those afflicted with homelessness in Pueblo has increased dramatically due to this Pot Rush.
Despite the legalization initially being designed to eliminate black market sales for marijuana, the black market hasn’t slowed down any. People are flocking to the region to grow marijuana illegally and then either ship it to other states or reselling it on the streets at a lower price than can be found in dispensaries. Illegal grow operations, sales, and even illegal dispensaries are cropping up all over the region.
The battle over legalizing marijuana
The fight to legalize marijuana used to be thought of as a libertarian or liberal pipe dream, but not anymore. Politicians on both sides are announcing their support of this drug as polls show that their constituents favor legalization. The Gallup poll found that 64% of Americans support legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana last year, a majority of whom were Republicans.
In November, Michigan will have a referendum that could earn it the coveted position of the first legalized Midwestern state. Connecticut is also considering a bill that would move their state in the direction of legalization. Vermont has already legalized recreational and will be starting sales in July.