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Legalization: Part 3 – The Local Impact

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DENVER, Colorado (WGGB) — After being illegal and shunned for centuries, marijuana is legal in parts of Colorado. For nearly four months now, the drug has been grown and sold as part of a regulated marketplace. As part of ABC40’s ongoing look at the legalization process and the possibility of the same legislation coming to Massachusetts, we explored the impact on the Colorado community.  The international spotlight is locked in on Colorado of late, all for one reason.

“People are strictly coming to Colorado to buy marijuana. And again I don’t think that’s a good reason to come to Colorado,” longtime resident Patty Capps said. “Colorado’s got so much more to offer than that.”

“More than half the ids that we are checking are coming from out of state,” Elan Nelson of the popular dispensary The Medicine Man said. “It’s really an exciting experience for them, they are taking selfies and photos and they are really enjoying the experience.”

Marijuana supporters say so far the transition to retail marijuana has been flawless. There are over a hundred stores in Denver alone, employing thousands of people.

“There’s a lot of areas in Denver that were sort of revitalized with empty store fronts now being taken over by dispensaries,” Nelson said. “Jobs being created everyday. Ancillary businesses, talking about security and packaging requirements so there’s a lot of benefit coming out of this industry.”

But what about associated crime? Between January 1st and the end of march, 30 successful or attempted break-ins to retail stores were reported to the city, along with one marijuana related robbery, and 80 public consumption tickets issued. Denver Police say they have to enforce the laws that are on the books, whether they think that retail marijuana should be legal or not.

“We do have a marijuana unit that looks for illegal sales, illegal grows. That kind of thing,” Denver Police Public Information Officer Sonny Jackson said. “That’s their job, I mean because there are still legalities around like anything else. You’ve got people who need to understand the laws around marijuana. Whether it be are you operating your shop properly, are you selling to minors? Things like that that you have to be concerned about like with liquor stores.”

Extra officers were trained in drug recognition. If police suspect you are driving under the influence of marijuana, they can arrest you, and then order a blood test. If you have more than five nanograms of active THC in your system, you’re headed to jail. Officers say overall, the retail marijuana transition has been smooth, but others like advocacy group Smart Colorado, are concerned. Their man issues center around the sales of edible marijuana products like candy and cookies that are infused with the drug.

“We had 15 kids eat marijuana Tootsie Rolls two weeks ago,” Rachel O’Bryan of Smart Colorado said. “A few kids brought them into school. 15 people ate them, a whole bunch of them didn’t know they were getting marijuana. They were all high. The teachers were wondering what’s going on today at school.”

Denver Marijuana Policy Director Ashley Kilroy says studies do clearly indicate that when the perception of risk with any substance goes down, youth usage goes up.

“In the city we are going to be moving forward with a youth education campaign,” Kilroy said. “We are going to do that thoughtfully. Start with the research. Understand what the research is, understand what the data is, and understand what effective messaging is for kids.”

Kilroy says tax revenues have been on target with expectations, but it’s a work in progress to now figure out what marijuana side effects now need to be mitigated.

Coming up Thursday in ABC40’s ongoing series, we sit down with representatives from the Marijuana Policy Project. They pushed the legislation through Colorado and now have their sights on Massachusetts. Others in Colorado have serious concerns, though, and say ‘not so fast.’

Legalization Part 1: Law of the Land
Legalization Part 2: The Marijuana Store
Legalization Part 4: The Big Debate
Legalization Part 5: The Mass. Effect

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