Cannabis regulation in Colorado: early evidence defies the critics

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The core argument made by opponents of legal regulation is that any regulated market for cannabis would inevitably fuel a significant rise in use and associated harms – particularly among young people. So inevitably, as the first jurisdiction in the world to implement a legally regulated market for non-medical cannabis use, Colorado is under intense scrutiny, with advocates keen to demonstrate its successes, and prohibitionists keen to highlight its failings.

Given that Colorado’s cannabis market only began trading in January 2014, it is not yet possible to draw firm conclusions about longer-term impacts. But a review of early evidence on key indicators suggests that, aside from some relatively minor teething problems, the state’s regulatory framework has defied the critics, and its impacts have been largely positive.

There has been no obvious spike in young people’s cannabis use, road fatalities, or crime, and there have been a number of positives, including a dramatic drop in the number of people being criminalised for cannabis offences; a substantial contraction in the illicit trade, as the majority of supply is now regulated by the government; and a significant increase in tax revenue, which is now being spent on social programmes. Consistent public support for legalisation also suggests Coloradans perceive the reforms to have been a success. Where challenges have emerged, for example around cannabis edibles, the flexibility of the regulations has allowed for modification to address them.