Pubdate: Thu, 02 Apr 2015
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2015 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Trevor Hughes


The voters wanted the law changed to reflect reality. A year later, 
legalizing pot doesn't seem to have ended Western civilization as we know it.

More than a year after Colorado legalized marijuana sales, there's a 
pot shop just a few steps away from the Prada, Ralph Lauren, 
Sotheby's and Burberry stores in this toniest of tony ski towns.

Tourists from around the world step into the Green Dragon cannabis 
store to buy small amounts of legal - and heavily taxed - marijuana. 
It goes on day after day after day with virtually no muss or fuss. 
Welcome to my reality. More than a year ago, the editors at USA TODAY 
asked me to join their team as the Rocky Mountain correspondent to 
tell stories from across the West, from wildfires to wild weather, 
politics and guns. But marijuana coverage quickly became a top 
priority, as the world watches the legalization experiments taking 
place here as well as in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District 
of Columbia.

Pot, or cannabis as some of the fans prefer to call it these days, 
has been legal here since Jan. 1, 2014.

More often than not, I find myself telling those editors, "No, no, 
it's not like that. Colorado doesn't smell like pot all of the time. 
No, not everyone is stoned all of the time. And no, there isn't blood 
running in the streets as a result of legalization." We haven't seen 
the explosion in crime or car crashes that critics direly predicted, 
or the invasion of Mexican cartels.

In other words, legalizing pot doesn't seem to have ended Western 
civilization as we know it, bolstering critics who say marijuana 
should never have been demonized by America's War on Drugs.

We the people chose to legalize pot. It wasn't a decision foisted 
upon us by a federal court or a mandate from some far-off government 
bureaucrat. The voters wanted the law changed to reflect reality - 
the reality that people were using marijuana safely and responsibly.

Your friends and neighbors smoke pot, just like mine. The only real 
difference is my fellow Coloradans won't get arrested or ticketed. 
Oh, and they pay taxes on their pot. Lots of taxes. Last year, 
Colorado collected $76 million in marijuana taxes and fees, not 
including local governments' share of the pot.

The strangeness of the situation hit home the other day when I was 
talking to a group of business owners. One asked why marijuana tax 
collections had fallen below projections, and her comment prompted a 
double take on my part. All of a sudden, we're talking about why 
marijuana tax collections aren't higher instead of arguing about the 
societal impacts of legalization.

To be sure, I've gotten to take our audience inside some unusual 
places. Riding in an armored car loaded with marijuana cash and 
driven by an ex-soldier armed with a AR-15 comes to mind, as does the 
first outdoor harvest of legal marijuana. Looking over stacks of cash 
and plants worth millions helps explain why there's so much interest 
in this industry.

Of course, the system isn't perfect. Colorado's regulators still 
aren't testing marijuana for contaminants; the state is being sued by 
its neighbors for failing to prevent pot from flowing across its 
borders; there's been an increase in marijuana poisoning of children 
who've gotten into their parents' stash; and cops have been arresting 
growers who use the state's legal system as a cover for interstate 
drug trafficking.

But life goes on in Colorado much as it has for decades, albeit with 
more national headlines. And not everyone is excited about those 
headlines. I'm pretty sure Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper would be 
happy to never talk about marijuana again because Colorado has so 
much else going on.

A few weeks ago, one of Denver's business leaders, worrying all the 
pot coverage is giving the state a bad rap, obliquely suggested I 
write more about the amazing things happening here. Why aren't you 
writing about the state's ebullient job growth or how happy people 
are with their work-life balance or the number of corporate offices 
relocating to Denver? he asked.

Without meaning to, he raised a great point: Things in Colorado 
haven't really changed much since we legalized pot.

Colorado still has sunny skies, great skiing and fantastic people. 
The business climate is great and getting better, entrepreneurs are 
launching innovative solutions to a wide array of problems and, atop 
all that, you can buy marijuana legally.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom