Today on Jan. 1, for the first time ever, there is a place in the United States where you can walk into a store, buy some weed without any license or prescription, and walk out without fear of getting arrested. That place is Colorado, and it’s one of only two states in the country — and very few jurisdictions in the world — to offer legal, recreational marijuana. While Washington legalized weed the same night as Colorado, the regulatory process there has taken a bit longer, and stores won’t actually begin selling weed until midway through this year. As of now, Colorado’s the only game in town — and for the time being, the feds say they won't interfere.
But other than the obvious result that Cookie Butter sales at Trader Joe’s stores in Denver are about to increase, what other effects will Colorado’s legalization of the third most popular drug in the nation have? We have some theories.
1. Marijuana Tourism Will Become A Thing
Colorado’s law allows anyone above the age of 21 to buy marijuana — including non-residents. You’d think that would make it an appealing tourist spot, and you’d be right. Colorado High Life Tours, Colorado Green Tours, and My 420 Tours all offer out-of-staters a chance to sample Colorado’s goods, with the latter offering not only tours of marijuana stores but also cooking and growing classes, and private parties. As of this week, My 420 Tours has a 4,000 person waiting list.
There’s a hiccup, though: Colorado’s law doesn’t permit people to light up anywhere they choose. Smoking is restricted to private residences or smoking-designated hotel rooms, which means out of state tourists — assuming they don’t have friends in the state — will have to be content with getting stoned in their hotel rooms.
Small problem: Colorado only has 609 smoking-friendly hotel rooms. Extrapolating from the estimated portion of the U.S. that smokes weed (10.8 percent) and the average number of adult tourists in Colorado every year (10,775,000), My 420 Tours co-founder Matt Brown concluded that the number of pot-smoking tourists will outnumber the amount of smoking-friendly hotel rooms by a magnitude of five on any given night.
This is actually a serious issue, because the windfall from tourism revenue was of the big selling points of legalizing weed to begin with. Until Washington weed stores open up shop, Colorado will be in a unique position to capitalize on high-curious tourists from around the country, but that opportunity will be squandered if the state doesn’t loosen restrictions on where weed can be smoked or encourage hotels to build more smoking rooms.
2. Public Services Will Improve — Especially Schools
Regardless of how one feels about marijuana’s medical benefits — even though there really isn’t much to debate anymore — one thing’s clear: legalizing weed will bring in a ton of money. Colorado is set to tax recreational marijuana at 25 percent, in addition to the standard 2.9 percent sales tax, making it one of the most highly-taxed products in the state. This will bring in about $67 million per year, and the first $40 million of that will go toward education funding. The result, amusingly, is a situation where legalizing marijuana actually offers a significant positive benefit for children. In Washington, tax revenue from marijuana sales is expected to hit almost $2 billion over the next five years.
States that legalize recreational marijuana save money in another way, as they don’t have to devote as much of their budgets to drug enforcement. In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris concluded the state would save “in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually” on law enforcement costs if recreational weed is legalized.
3. Other States Will Legalize Weed
While Washington and Colorado are the only states to legalize recreational blazing, that could soon change. In October, 58 percent of people said they’d favor legalizing weed. That’s a 10-point jump over the last year (!), and the first time pot legalization has received majority approval. (In 1969, only 12 percent of people were down with legal pot — how the world has changed.)
In California, where medical marijuana has been legal for over 15 years, a ballot proposition to fully legalize it is currently collecting signatures. State Attorney General Kamala Harris supports that proposition, and a recent poll in the state showed that 54 percent of Californians do, too. In New Hampshire, state lawmakers took time off from being batshit crazy to debate legislation that would legalize and tax recreational marijuana.
It’s too early to draw any conclusions, but there may be something of a sea change occurring with regard to the public’s perception of marijuana. Just as America seemed to abruptly embrace gay marriage after opposing it for decades, the same could be happening with weed. Washington and Colorado are fairly liberal, but they’re not exactly sandal-wearing communists. Their moves to legalize marijuana could signify a bellwether for the nation, as opposed to isolated regional anomalies.
4. We’ll Have To Figure Out What Constitutes “High Driving”
Every state has some manner of law that governs driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID), but none actually attempted to quantify how much of a drug one must have in their system in order to qualify as DUID. That is, until last spring, when Colorado passed legislation establishing DUID criteria for marijuana. Per the new law, a driver is too high to drive if they get behind the wheel with five nanograms of THC or more per milliliter of blood.
This criteria is specifically intended to indicate the current state of intoxication, as opposed to more traditional marijuana tests that measure whether one has smoked in the last thirty days. But there’s a lot of uncertainty about what exactly constitutes being too high to drive, and whether five nanograms is a reasonable threshold.
“It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person's THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects,” says the National Highway Traffic Administration. “It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”
That’s the federal government talking, not some marijuana advocacy organization (although marijuana advocacy organizations agree). It’s a thorny issue, because while there really is no precedent to suggest how much THC makes you too stoned to drive, the level has to be set somewhere. Colorado’s five nanogram limit will most likely be only the beginning of the conversation.
5. More People Will Stumble Getting On Ski Lifts
Because they’ll be high off their gills!