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Amendment 64 in Colorado: Marijuana Legalization Will Create Jobs and Raise Revenue

Here’s your meme: move to Colorado, because we just legalized weed. Well, sort of. Nearly 55% of voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment to establish regulations for recreational marijuana.

In the immortal words of Peter Tosh

"Singer smoke it / And players of instruments too / Legalize it, yeah, yeah / That's the best thing you can do / Doctors smoke it / Nurses smoke it / Judges smoke it / Even the lawyers too / Legalize it - don't criticize it / Legalize it and I will advertise it / It's good for the flu / It's good for asthma / Good for tuberculosis / Even umara composis [Note: The internet doesn’t know what this is, but suggests it might be related to menstrual cramps]."

As if reggae music wasn't already glowing-enough praise, Tosh brings up the two strongest arguments for the legalization of recreational marijuana: ubiquity and good economic sense. Medical marijuana already exists, so his extensive list of ailments alleviated by THC is obsolete, at least in Colorado.

More than half of all Colorado voters (this is both a fact and a statistical necessity) approved of legalizing recreational marijuana. The Amendment 64 referendum will, in summary:

  • Establish regulations for the growth and sale of recreational marijuana by state-regulated licensed single-use establishments (dispensaries cannot sell recreational marijuana), and regulations for production of industrial hemp.
  • Like alcohol, allow adults of 21 years of age or older to purchase, transport, use, and share one ounce or less, and to grow up to six plants.
  • Require the state legislature to create a layered excise tax on marijuana (to be approved in a separate statewide vote).
  • Require the first $40 million in annual revenue from this tax to go to a state fund for public school construction.

You can read the full text of both the ballot question and the initiative here.

Everyone (sort of) smokes weed. According to an Amendment 64 study by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, it is estimated that nearly 13% of Colorado residents aged 21 and older (between 500,000 and 600,000 individuals) use marijuana, of which nearly 100,000 are medical marijuana card holders. But since it is illegal, the state spends money enforcing the law rather than making money off sales that are happening anyway. According to research featured at HuffPo, the state spends about 4% of its combined police, judicial, and correctional budgets on marijuana-related offenses; legalization can be seen as part of prison/judicial reform.

By legalizing a retail market that already exists, the state puts itself in prime position to financially benefit from the sale and production of marijuana. Between excise and sale taxes, regulation is expected to generate $46 million dollars in combined state and local revenue while simultaneously saving more than $12 million in law enforcement expenditures. The revenue number could be even greater if legality increases marijuana’s customer base. It’s a tax plan even Paul Ryan can get behind.

Additionally, by legalizing and establishing regulations for production of industrial hemp, the amendment has the potential to revitalize — indeed, reincarnate — an industry that has been dormant since before World War II. For those who are unfamiliar, hemp and marijuana were lobbied to illegality by nylon stocking and newspaper companies who feared the affordability and durability of hemp to be a threat to their industries. Cult classic (can I call it that?) Reefer Madness was a 1938 U.S. Government-produced piece of anti-marijuana propaganda.

Spelling it out: from every angle, legalization of marijuana means jobs, jobs, jobs. And we all know how multi-partisan “jobs” are.

Still skeptical? Aside from the fact that it will be a hot minute before I can go down to my friendly neighborhood marijuana retailer and buy a dimebag because of the amendment’s built-in legislative roadblocks, the revenue from that sale will support public education in the state by building schools and creating hundreds of jobs.

The measure won in most counties, including those — like mine — that regularly “go red” (or went for Romney). 33 out of 64 counties approved the measure; one blue (Obama) country rejected it. Though more blue counties supported it than red counties, it was not one-sided. Lowest support was seen overwhelmingly in the central- and north-eastern counties, those most reminiscent, at least in scenery, of Nebraska and Kansas. From the Front Range westward the measure was mostly supported, in both blue and red counties. Here is my stylish spreadsheet analysis with data from here.

This shows that Colorado — one of the many states divided along urban/blue-rural/red lines — is a state of rational thinkers rather than Nancy Reagan-worshipping ideologues. This was not about liberalism: It was about economic rationality to weather the storm and establish a long-term revenue plan for the state. Because if one thing is true about Colorado, it’s that ski bums like their weed.

(In other news, nearly 74% of Coloradans also voted to impose limits on campaign contributions and spending in Amendment 65. Which is a phenomenally huge number.)

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