What New Mexico can learn about legalizing recreational pot
May 15, 2018 10:24 PM
DENVER – As states around the country took measures to legalize recreational marijuana, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez vowed to veto any legislation that came her way. With Martinez's final term ending at the end of year, lawmakers are quietly talking about the idea of re-introducing legislation to legalize recreational cannabis.
If lawmakers look to New Mexico's northern neighbor Colorado, they could easily see what seems to be working well and what’s not.
In 2014, Colorado was the first state to allow entrepreneurs to open stores to sell marijuana to anyone over the age of 21. By Jan. 1 of that year, permits were issued, stores were built and marijuana was flying off the shelf.
"As voters we were visionaries," said Rachel Gillette, a Denver-based attorney who represents cannabis companies.
The most obvious and visible benefit Colorado is seeing is the revenue marijuana taxes have generated for state and local governments. In total, marijuana taxes make up about 1.5 percent of the state's total budget equaling about $130 million last year.
Much of the money is earmarked for public works projects. A recent state law requires that $40 million dollars of marijuana money go toward rehabbing and constructing public schools.
"When I look around I see a very positive impact of legalization," Gillette said.
The industry is credited for an explosion of new jobs. Colorado's unemployment rate is 3.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s one of the lowest in the country and below the national average. Compare that to New Mexico’s 6.0 percent.
Colorado's tourism numbers are up, and marijuana advocates believe part of the uptick can be credited to legalized cannabis.
Many cannabis entrepreneurs are purchasing and restoring abandoned buildings. Joe Gira, a dispensary owner in Denver, recently purchased a vacant warehouse to expand his business and accommodate grow and retail operations on one site.
"We have greater space for our grow, about four times the size of what we used to have and it allows us to serve both medical and recreational patients in this location," he said.
Gira expects to hire 10-15 additional employees in the next year, with some salaries hovering around $60,000 annually.
The marijuana industry is also creating a lot of ancillary jobs. Gira is just one of many who will need electricians, plumbers, suppliers and dozens of contractors to build the warehouse.
"I think in a state like New Mexico, it can only get better if you legalize cannabis," Gillette said.
WHAT'S NOT WORKING
Some things have turned dangerous. With twice as many dispensaries in Denver as Starbucks, driving under the influence cases are up by 145 percent since 2013, according to a report from the Denver Post.
It's also difficult to secure convictions because there is no real measurable way to find out how impaired a driver is.
"With blood alcohol content, we can measure very easily at the scene of the crime or accident how intoxicated they were over the legal limit," said Justin Luke Riley, founder of Marijuana Accountability Coalition. "With marijuana, because of inconsistencies with regulation and product development, we don't have something police could use on the scene to determine how impaired a person using marijuana is while driving."
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, 70 percent of users admit they've driven impaired at least once in the past year. The same study reveals about 25 percent of drivers admit to driving high every day.
There is growing concern that the growth of Colorado's drug treatment facilities is being far outpaced by the marijuana industry.
"I did not know the storm that was about to hit my family," said Aubree Adams, a mother from Pueblo.
Adams believes legalizing marijuana personally cost her family. She blames high potency marijuana as the source of her teenage son's suicide attempts.
"He was completely irrational. He was paranoid. He was perseverating on ideas that did not make a bit of sense," Adams said. "He was having a psychotic break."
Her son started by consuming edible marijuana in middle school. He moved on to dabbing, which means smoking dangerously potent oil extract from marijuana. Eventually, his addiction led him to heroin.
"My son wanted it to end and he tried to take his life. He ended up consuming about 250 ibuprofen tablets and the next morning I didn't know that. I woke up and he was laying on the couch. I walked by his room and there was vomit all over his bed and all over his floor. I found the empty bottle and the suicide note."
A shortage of beds in Pueblo forced him to find medical care in nearby Colorado Springs. He's now in a treatment facility in Texas.
While government regulations have cracked down on marketing alcohol and tobacco to minors, many feel the same can't be said about the marijuana industry. Cartoons are still used in marketing efforts, and KOB found a charter high school next door to a cannabis dispensary.
HERE AT HOME
It’s likely New Mexico will be faced with the decision to legalize recreational marijuana, and lawmakers could listen to from the voices of experience in Colorado voices before making a decision.
Updated: May 15, 2018 10:24 PM
Created: May 15, 2018 07:37 PM
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