THE BLOG
12/31/2014 04:43 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

From Pot to Protests: 10 Ways Colorado Made History in 2014

History was made on the very first day of 2014, when Colorado became the first state in the country to have legal retail marijuana sales, but that was only the beginning of a transformative year for civil liberties in this state. The year was marked by historic changes on issues from marriage equality to solitary confinement reform, and it ended with Colorado students taking to the streets, forcing a dialogue about race and police practices.

Here are 10 ways Colorado made history in 2014:

1. Marijuana Legalization Implemented. On January 1, 2014, implementation began for Amendment 64, allowing legal sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana under Colorado law. Colorado's example has been watched by other states, helping to put a dent in the costly and ineffective "War on Drugs."

2. Marriage Equality Achieved. Twenty years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the discriminatory Amendment 2, which had once earned our state a national reputation as a "hate state," Colorado now has full marriage equality and all loving couples can now legally get married.

3. Police Practices Put Under the Spotlight. National attention on police killings of young black men was amplified in Colorado by multiple settlements and judgments against Denver Police and the Denver Sheriff Department, including a $6 million settlement in the case of Marvin Booker, a 56-year-old man who died at the hands of four sheriff's deputies at the Denver Jail in 2010.

4. Solitary Confinement Curtailed. The Colorado legislature passed a landmark new law prohibiting the cruel, inhumane, and costly practice of warehousing prisoners with serious mental illness in solitary confinement. The overall solitary confinement population in Colorado prisons has dropped to about 200 from over 1700 three years ago.

5. Women's Reproductive Rights Protected. Colorado voters once again rejected the dangerous and extreme fetal personhood amendment. Despite the use of deceptive language intended to trick voters, Amendment 67, which would have banned all abortions and restricted access to birth control, failed by a 65% to 35% margin.

6. Student Activism Renewed. 2014 saw the highest level of high school student protests in Colorado in many years, from Jefferson County students protesting right-wing religious attacks on school curricula to dozens of student protests against police brutality and racial bias.

7. Debtors' Prisons Stopped. The Colorado legislature put an end to the unconstitutional practice of putting Coloradans in jail because they were too poor to pay legal fines and court fees.

8. Governor Hickenlooper Takes Stance Against the Death Penalty. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper officially expressed his opposition to the death penalty, calling it expensive, unequal, and ineffective as a deterrent to crime.

9. Illegal Immigration Detainers Ended. Based on ACLU legal analysis and advocacy, sheriffs in all Colorado counties agreed to end the illegal practice of holding people in jail beyond their release time at the request of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

10. Discrimination in the Name of Religion Rebuffed. Colorado courts ruled that discrimination by Masterpiece Cakeshop against LGBT customers violated public accommodation laws, and the legislature rejected all efforts to allow discrimination in the name of religion.

Many more challenges lie ahead for social justice and civil liberties in 2015 on a host of issues including race and justice, the criminalization of homelessness, surveillance and national security, incarceration rates, religious and academic freedom, voting rights, equal protection, and women's rights. There is still much more work to be done to achieve the freedoms and protections promised in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but 2014 proved that change is possible when enough people speak out and fight for it.