Marijuana legalization: What Canada can learn from the Colorado experience

The state’s first-ever director of marijuana co-ordination (yes, that’s really a thing) tell us what Canada can learn from the Colorado experience.

State's 'marijuana czar' reflects on what worked and what 's causing problems

The legalization of cannabis in Colorado has not drastically changed the culture or caused a massive public health crisis, says Andrew Freedman — the state's director of marijuana coordination. (David McNew/Reuters)

The following article was originally published on Sept. 18, 2016

When you ask Colorado's first-ever director of marijuana co-ordination what's changed in the two years since the state legalized pot, he'll tell you that things look "roughly the same."

In other words, the streets are not filled with the scent of reefer and no government officials are swimming through mountains of money like Scrooge McDuck.

Andrew Freedman is often referred to in Colorado as the 'marijuana czar' because of his role as the state's director of marijuana coordination. (Linkedin)

In 2015, Andrew Freedman, who is often referred to as the state's marijuana czar, said taxes on medical and recreational marijuana added about $130-million to Colorado's $27-billion budget.

"People think we're going to be able to construct a whole bunch of new schools. And we're like 'Well, no, we're going to put roofs on ten schools,'" Freedman said in an interview Friday as part of the Calgary Eyeopener's week-long series looking at the potential implications of legalizing marijuana in Canada next year. 

"I think people wish that sin taxes could do a lot more than they actually can do. They just can't compare to income tax," Freedman said.

What has changed

While marijuana legalization has not caused the sky to fall in Colorado, Freedman said there are some "concerning statistics" that have emerged.

"There have been an increase in hospitalizations and emergency room visits, so we're digging deeper into why that would be. In addition, roadside deaths and roadway deaths —  drivers are testing more positive for marijuana at a greater rate than before."

Freedman said a "heartening statistic" is the 8,000 fewer criminal filings for marijuana since 2014 — a direct result of the fact that it is no longer illegal for an adult to walk around Denver with one ounce of weed in his or her pocket.

"It's about criminal justice reform," he said. 

"Those are the discussion that should be going on in your country and community for why this would or wouldn't be a good idea."

Since recreational cannabis was legalized in Colorado in 2014, there has been an increase in fatalities involving drugged drivers. (Shutterstock)

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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