Blog Post

The Sky Hasn't Fallen in Washington State (or Anywhere Else Where Marijuana is Legal)

Jolene Forman

Chicken Little, a character in the popular children’s folktale, once exclaimed, “the sky is falling!” In the story, Chicken Little mistakenly believes that the world is going to end and runs around warning the other animals of their impending doom. Chicken Little’s frenzied fear that the world was going to end never came true because it was based on assumption and incomplete information.

Just like Chicken Little, marijuana legalization opponents’ fears that marijuana legalization would lead to social and economic disaster were never actualized.

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of retail marijuana sales in Washington and preliminary reports – including a status report published by the Drug Policy Alliance – show that marijuana legalization has been a success.

Early indications from Washington and Colorado demonstrate that the sky is not falling. Data show that both states have earned windfalls in tax revenues, violent crime rates have continued to decline, traffic fatalities have remained stable, and millions of dollars have funded youth prevention and education programs.

In the first year of retail marijuana sales, both states experienced a boon in tax revenues: Colorado raised approximately $53 million and Washington raised approximately $70 million in tax revenues. In both states, tax revenues generated from retail marijuana sales were used in part for youth prevention and education efforts.

Since legalization, Washington and Colorado have both experienced a decrease in violent crime that is consistent with crime trends across the country. In addition, the rates of traffic fatalities and youth use have not meaningfully changed since legalization.

We can now conclude that marijuana legalization has not demonstrated any negative outcomes in either state but has generated tens of millions of dollars in revenues that are being used to prevent youth from using marijuana.

These findings should come as no surprise. Experimentation with marijuana legalization is not new. Many states have legalized medical marijuana in some form or another since California first passed Proposition 215, nearly twenty years ago.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in 24 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. In jurisdictions where medical marijuana is legal, rates of youth use have remained unchanged. In fact, medical marijuana has been linked to lower rates of opiate overdose, suicide, and traffic fatalities.

In spite of the hysterics of the Chicken Littles of the world, marijuana legalization has been a success in Washington and Colorado. Because the sky has not fallen in Colorado or Washington, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia also approved laws to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2014.

Several more states will also soon consider legalizing marijuana in the coming elections, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, and Ohio. When those states legalize we can be confident the sky will not fall.

Jolene Forman is a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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