'Big marijuana' open for business
Dopers from all over the country have a new reason to visit Colorado.
The late musician John Denver's popular song "Rocky Mountain High" took on a whole new meaning Wednesday when scores of retail marijuana shops opened for business in Colorado.
Long lines of eager customers testified to the public's demand for the intoxicating weed, but there's no great surprise about that. Americans seem to have an unquenchable appetite for mind-altering substances, be they legal (alcohol) or illegal (cocaine, marijuana, heroin).
What will be instructive, however, is the social impact of the legal sale of marijuana in Colorado and eventually in Washington. Will this experiment in the legalization of a heretofore illegal drug be the disaster that opponents have predicted or the non-event that the pro-marijuana crowd contends?
Whatever happens will be instructive, a lesson learned from coast to coast that will be useful in helping legislators in states other than Colorado and Washington shape public policy regarding marijuana usage in their states.
Political scientists would characterize the development as a laboratory experiment in American democracy — the 50 states being 50 separate laboratories that are free to shape their public policies in ways that please them and inform others.
Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, but the Obama administration has decided to stand down in Colorado.
The Colorado results will be especially instructive for Illinois because our state legislators have approved the sale of medical marijuana. Medical marijuana in Illinois is not a reality yet, but it's coming, and along with it will come more public pressure for Illinois to follow Colorado's example and legalize all marijuana. One plan follows the other like fall follows summer.
Anyone over 21 in Colorado can purchase up to 1 ounce of marijuana, enough for 60 joints at a half-gram a joint. Out-of-staters, who were well represented among those lining up to buy in Colorado, are limited by law to a quarter-ounce. Good luck trying to enforce those limits. Law enforcement officials in Colorado say they are resigned to large amounts of marijuana being transported out of state.
The marijuana shops, which are supposed to be tightly regulated by state officials, can be open from 8 a.m. to midnight, and marijuana sales will be subject to heavy taxation.
The Denver Post reports that state taxes on a $30 sale will be roughly $6. Local jurisdictions will add their own taxes, including another $2.50 on the $30 sale in Denver. All told, that's a tax rate of almost 30 percent.
Marijuana tax revenues will be funneled toward school construction, the government's expense in regulating the burgeoning marijuana industry and public education campaigns about marijuana. The Post, however, reports that elected officials "expect the revenue to exceed even those needs" and many "have already begun dreaming about what their share of the tax money could do."
It would, of course, be extremely naive to believe that those now buying marijuana legally were not buying marijuana illegally before. So perhaps Colorado's decision to legalize marijuana sales may well be a logical response to a marketplace reality.
At the same time, however, it would also be naive to believe that legalization won't create new problems and make bigger problems out of existing smaller ones.
It's almost a sure bet that the corporatization of marijuana sales will create a larger market, including more consumers under 21. They'll get marijuana in the future exactly like they got beer in the past.
There's also the gateway drug effect, experimenting with marijuana leading to experimenting with other drugs. Then there's the issue of the mental and physical impact on heavy marijuana consumers.
This bold social experiment will raise dozens of issues, some not yet even realized. In that sense, good for Colorado going first. If legal marijuana is a nightmare, better the people of Colorado suffer than the people of Illinois.