From Our CEO

Today marks a milestone for the Colorado Health Institute as we release our first briefing on retail marijuana policy.

There are few times when Colorado can rightfully claim the position as a leading or bellwether state.  Yet with the 2012 passage of a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana and the accelerated time frame that this amendment imposed on state government, that's exactly where we find ourselves.

Our new issue brief, Early Lessons from Legalized Marijuana: An Analysis of Colorado’s Policy Decisions, categorizes the considerable work effort and policy decisions Colorado has tackled by four areas:

  • Regulating the marketplace
  • Controlling access to marijuana by those under 21
  • Setting tax rates and targeting the revenue
  • Creating a structure for research and learning

Importantly, we also discern the early lessons learned from Colorado's experience.  While we are just beginning the process of creating and regulating a brand new market, there are lessons to be learned as other states consider legalization.  Chief among these lessons are:

  • Keeping marijuana away from children through a robust regulatory and enforcement environment is a critical state and federal priority.
  • Deciding how to spend marijuana tax revenue is an enticing, yet challenging, exercise.
  • Having an in-place regulatory framework for medical marijuana provides a glide path for regulating retail marijuana.

Finally, as we did our homework on the policy, health and regulatory issues that surround the legalization of marijuana, two observations emerged as particularly relevant in the context of today's state and national issues. 

The first is a word of warning:  creating this new market takes significant time, resources and energy within both the legislative and executive branches of state government.  While hard to quantify, there's a considerable opportunity cost of establishing the market. 

And second, Colorado's brand -- particularly important to a state committed to economic develop and expanding tourism -- will be impacted by our "first in the nation" status, at least for a while.  Only time will tell if this is a positive or negative development.

This work – led by Director of Community Health Policy Sara Schmitt and supported by research assistant Kevin Butcher – also marks the start of an ongoing project for the Colorado Health Institute. We are committed to ongoing analysis of the policy decisions and their impact on health, and everything that contributes to health, in Colorado.

Michele Lueck is the president and CEO of CHI.