It may be too soon to say definitively that the country should repeal its ineffective prohibition on marijuana, but after its first year legalizing recreational pot, Colorado is headed in the right direction.

Part of the proof of the wisdom of legalizing the use of marijuana came in the way of news this week that sanctioned retail pot netted state and local governments about $76 million in taxes and fees last year.

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While that is about $30 million shy of what state officials guessed it might be, the program has shows what most people expected: Money that previously fueled a massive marijuana black market and even murderous drug gangs now provides jobs, economic stimulus and tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenues. It doesn’t mean that the state’s piecemeal, contradictory legalized marijuana laws aren’t in need of repair already. The state arrived at legalizing recreational pot use after more than a decade of medical marijuana sales. At the time, in 2000, few people foresaw that recreational marijuana was relatively on the horizon. An entire industry grew out of the notion that pot’s medicinal properties should be made easily available to those who “need” them.

The problem quickly grew into an industry of “wink, wink, nudge nudge” maladies among Colorado residents who “needed” a snowballing array of marijuana types and products to treat an sudden explosion of illnesses. Even though state voters in 2012 agreed to end the medical marijuana charade by letting adults legally purchase it for what they’re actually using it for, recreation, the two parallel industries are causing new problems. Because medical marijuana is treated somewhat as real medicine, it’s not taxed by the state. Furthermore, it’s priced lower than market value of recreational marijuana, at least for now.

The fix is clear: It’s time to close the door on Colorado’s medical marijuana business. Clearly the two “industries” are so conflicting, that they’re creating problems legalization of recreational marijuana was meant to solve. Too many people are buying medical marijuana and then re-selling it on the black market. Too often, that black-market pot finds its way into the hands of minors. While marijuana may have medicinal qualities, in and of itself, it’s no more medicine than is beer, wine or vodka, which also have medicinal properties. To accommodate those who legitimately use marijuana as medicine, the doctor-sanctioned medical marijuana card will get holders a bye on some level of sales taxes, preferably via a refund.

State voters were realistic in 2012 that marijuana use has been consistent for decades, and that criminalizing it costs the state and residents millions in wasted tax dollars. Like alcohol prohibition, Colorado has shown that there is no reasonable, realistic way to keep people from obtaining and using marijuana. The answer was and is regulation.

Like alcohol, rather than focus on keeping it from citizens, the government should make an effort to ensure that marijuana stays out of the black market and out of the hands of minors. Colorado’s system isn’t perfect, and it won’t be. Marijuana is a vice, not a commodity. The state has a long ways to go in regulating associated marijuana products such as hash and edible products. But it’s already undeniable that by allowing those who want to use recreational marijuana legally now, all residents benefit from keeping the vice above board, regulated and taxed.

4 replies on “EDITORIAL: One year after  legal weed, it’s clear that it pays for Colorado to play”

  1. The price difference between medical marijuana and retail marijuana due to taxes is far too small to drive the black market. It is the, as yet, unregulated market that is pushing pot into the hands of minors. A tax refund program for medical patients would be an added expense that would increase the cost of the medicinal use of marijuana to patients. And contrary to the snide implication of your editorial, the medical benefits of cannabis are being validated more and more as new studies are published on its efficacy.

  2. Pot is becoming more and more pervasive in our junior and senior high schools. Studies show a strong correlation between pot smoking and lower IQ’s & mental illness in young people, especially those under 25. The additional tax revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to future medical and mental health costs. The costs associated with alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are in the hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity, shorter life spans and direct medical expenses.

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