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Is Marijuana Legalization in Colorado and Washington Considered a Success or Failure?

04/04/2014 12:34 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2014

This question originally appeared on Quora.
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Answer by John Hudak, Author of Presidential Pork, Fellow @ Brookings, Managing Editor of the FixGov Blog. UConn Alum (B.A., 2005); Vanderbilt Alum (Ph.D., 2012)

Often, people think marijuana legalization is an easy issue and thus judging its success should be simple. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Marijuana legalization--especially in Washington and Colorado--is a complex area of public policy. It involves tax, regulatory, product safety, agricultural, public health, public safety, law enforcement, and financial market considerations.

 

To judge the success or failure of marijuana policy is to consider each of these individually and together. It is a tremendously tall order for policy analysts. It will take years to flesh out a clear and consistent answer. Given the polarized views between supporters and opponents, there will likely be evidence that gives conflicting answers.

 

In the meantime, let's look at what we know now. By government reports, legalization in Colorado has generated millions of dollars in additional tax revenue--consistent with or exceeding projections. By that metric, the policy change has been a success. Yet, the data exist only for one month and of course, time will tell about the revenue streams emerging from marijuana.

 

There has also been little if any evidence of product safety concerns with the state-sanctioned marijuana for sale at dispensaries. That can be considered a success. There were early reports of product shortages in the first week. Such a situation is not a failure but simply a market outcome for "new" products. The experience with product shortage is consistent with experiences with electronics around product launch dates and children's toys around Christmas.

 

In addition, there has been no evidence of notable increases in marijuana-related accidents or traffic violations nor have there been reports of sustained increases in public health problems associated with the use of cannabis. Once again, the market has only existed for a few months, and such problems may emerge over time and thus drawing settled conclusions would be premature. However, one could make an argument that the novel nature of the new product could have led to consumers going gangbusters with their new legal access to weed, leading to poor decision making at the outset. There is little evidence of that happening.

 

So the verdict: it's too early to tell, but early evidence suggests some success coming from this policy change in the Rocky Mountain State.

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