As Oregon and Alaska gear up to implement the will of their voters to legalize recreational cannabis use, they would be well served to look to Colorado for guidance. After years of hearings and task force meetings, Colorado has created a sound template for regulating the retail cannabis industry. It simultaneously balances the need to ensure public safety and creates free market conditions allowing the industry to thrive. While there is still work to be done in certain areas, we are on a solid path forward.
This historic feat was accomplished, in part, because government leaders avoided the temptation to regulate in a bubble — instead, they actively welcomed industry input on the rules that shaped how Colorado’s foray into cannabis legalization would play out. That collaboration continues to this day, resulting in a set of industry regulations that can nimbly address the unforeseen needs of this market.
All eyes were on Colorado at the beginning of 2014, as the first legal sales of non-medical marijuana in the United States to adults 21 years or older happened in Denver. While just a handful of retail stores opened that day, there are now more than 300 statewide. There’s a total of about 750 retail and medical stores now. Colorado collected more than $36 million in tax revenue (through October) on the sale of $121.6 million worth marijuana. As far as jobs, there were 5,492 people licensed to work in a cannabis business at the end of 2013. Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division issued 18,666 licenses to workers by September. That doesn’t include job growth in industries supporting cannabis, like construction, lighting and security companies.
With two additional states and Washington, D.C., approving full adult-use legalization in November, and at least six other states pursuing adult-use legislation in 2016, industry analysts are predicting $8 billion in cannabis sales nationwide by 2018. Many will rightly look to Colorado as the gold standard for cannabis industry regulation.
The non-partisan research organization Brookings Institution in a July 2014 report, titled “Colorado’s Rollout of Marijuana is Succeeding,” praised the state’s strong regulatory framework for the cannabis industry:
“Colorado’s early implementation decisions will be considered the Colorado Model; that model will inform and influence marijuana policy, potentially, for years to come.”
Those next in line to regulate cannabis sales should follow the lessons of Colorado and not fear a robust process that includes the voices of the regulated community. Companies entering the market should not run from regulation.
The Brookings report continued: “Much of this report has praised the innovation, professionalism, competence, leadership, and execution of the implementation of marijuana legalization in Colorado. The broad success of the state in putting into effect a policy that had no true precedent was a difficult task, and Colorado largely did well.”