New CHI Brief Analyzes Colorado's Policy Decisions on Legalized Marijuana

Colorado is known for many things – mountains and outdoor recreation, the Western Stock show, Denver Broncos, Palisade peaches, USA Pro Cycling Challenge (showing my bias) – just to name a few. And on January 1, 2014, Colorado earned a place in history when the state’s legal retail marijuana stores in the nation opened their doors.

Colorado is one of two states with legalized retail marijuana use for adults and the only state with up-and-running stores.  As attitudes across the country about legalizing marijuana are changing, Colorado’s efforts in creating marijuana policy, and implementing it, are being closely watched across the nation.

And at the Colorado Health Institute.

The Colorado Health Institute’s new issue brief Early Lessons from Legalized Marijuana: An Analysis of Colorado’s Policy Decisions studies the policy decisions Colorado has made to begin regulating retail marijuana and highlights unanswered questions still facing decision-makers.

Colorado tackled a wide range of policy and regulatory tasks in the 14 months following voter approval of Amendment 64 in October 2012 to prepare for January 2014. Among them: establishing a regulated retail market, controlling youth access to marijuana, setting tax rates, estimating future tax revenue, addressing public health concerns and creating a structure for Coloradans to learn about marijuana use and its health impacts. 

We are in the early days of this important public health policy shift. It’s unclear how much revenue will be generated. Lawmakers, entering their final days of this year’s session, are still deciding how to allocate resources. Local communities continue to weigh in on whether to allow retail sales in their jurisdictions. And more research and data are needed to fully understand the individual and community health impacts of marijuana legalization.

But Colorado’s efforts provide early lessons in this previously-unchartered territory that may be useful for other states. Colorado’s regulatory framework for medical marijuana served as a foundation upon which to build for retail sales. Developing robust regulations and enforcement to keep marijuana away from children is critical and understanding the effectiveness of Colorado’s new regulatory framework will take time.        

CHI provides timely, relevant information about policy issues impacting the health of all Coloradans. As we broaden our understanding of what makes for healthy individuals, communities and a healthier Colorado, CHI will provide evidence-based analysis on marijuana’s policy and public health implications.

Download the report here.

Sara Schmitt is the director of community health policy at CHI.