Both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are legal in Colorado, although each became legalized at different times. Medical cannabis became legal in 2000 through Amendment 20, while recreational cannabis became legal in 2012 through Amendment 64. After several changes made to the state’s cannabis laws, residents above 21 years can now possess up to 2 ounces (approx. 56 grams) of recreational marijuana. Medical patients can also possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis, as of 2022. However, the possession limits for cannabis concentrate has now been reduced from 40 grams to 8 grams per day. Medical patients who are not up to 21 (between 18 and 20) can only possess not more than 2 grams of cannabis concentrate per day. Generally, marijuana consumption in the public (in the open) is illegal; doing such may result in tickets and fines. Residents and tourists in Colorado can still buy 1 ounce of marijuana in a single transaction. This is against the previous law that restricted tourists from purchasing more than 7 grams of marijuana. However, a medical patient can still buy the standard 2 ounces of medical marijuana(or even higher with a physician's recommendation). Adults may share but not sell up to 1 ounce of marijuana with another adult (at least 21 years) in Colorado.
Coloradans 21 years of age or older are permitted by law to cultivate a maximum of 6 marijuana plants. However, they can only have three mature plants and the other three in the flowering stage, which must be in an enclosed area. Marijuana plants cultivated by residents must be processed at the site where they are grown. Also, plants grown at Colorado residences are for personal use and not meant for commercial purposes. Households in Colorado are limited to a maximum of 12 plants, irrespective of the number of adults in such homes.
Only licensed marijuana dispensaries have the legal right to sell marijuana in Colorado. Generally, the state permits the operations of marijuana dispensaries between 8:00 a.m. and midnight daily. City and town authorities can set the operating time for marijuana dispensaries. However, such time must be within the time frame authorized by the state. Consumers who carry marijuana in their vehicles must ensure to keep them in sealed containers. Consumption of marijuana while in a vehicle is illegal because such is considered public use. It is also unlawful to cross Colorado state lines with marijuana in the car. The same applies to flying out of the state with marijuana. Since marijuana is still illegal in the United States (on the federal level), it is a crime to use or keep marijuana on properties owned by the federal government in Colorado. Anyone who does so risks a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail for the first offense. Subsequent offenses can lead to extreme penalties and longer jail time.
To purchase marijuana or marijuana-infused products at Colorado's marijuana dispensaries, would-be buyers (over 21 years) must show their valid photo IDs. Such IDs must be government-issued. International visitors can purchase marijuana at dispensaries with their valid passports. In Colorado, persons between the ages of 18 and 21 can buy marijuana lawfully using medical marijuana prescriptions. Residents must register with the Medical Marijuana Registry and obtain a medical marijuana card to enjoy protection under the Colorado Medical Marijuana Law. However, a person need not be a Colorado resident to possess recreational marijuana. Only residents who apply for medical marijuana cards are required to register with the state.
Colorado licensing law places several restrictions on who can receive a medical marijuana license. Among these is the prohibition of a person who has had a felony sentence within the last five years from obtaining a marijuana license. Medical marijuana dispensaries owners in Colorado with felony drug convictions also face a lifetime ban from engaging in the medical marijuana business.
The economic impact of legal marijuana in Colorado includes the creation of employment and tax revenue generation.
Creation of Employment: Employment in the Colorado marijuana industry is relatively small compared to the total employment in the state but the growth rate over the years has been impressive. In Colorado, all business owners and their employees working in the marijuana industry must maintain an occupational license issued by the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED). As of July 2022, the MED had issued more than 41,000 individual licenses to active workers in the regulated marijuana industry. In a bid to ensure social equity and inclusion, the state agency recorded an increase in the percentage of minority marijuana business owners from 15.2% in June 2021 to 17.9% in June 2022.
Tax Revenue: Between February 2014 and August 2022, Colorado has generated over $2.2 billion in tax revenue from medical and recreational marijuana sales. The total sale amount within this period is estimated at $13.2 billion. The table below displays the total revenue generated from marijuana and corresponding marijuana sales by calendar years in Colorado since February 2014:
|Year||Tax Revenue||Tax Revenue to Date||Marijuana Sales||Marijuana Sales to Date|
Other Economical Boosts: According to a report, the tourism industry in Colorado saw an increase in monthly hotel booking from 6.0% to 7.2% following marijuana legalization. Immediately recreational marijuana was legalized, Colorado witnessed a rise in the rental of hotel rooms from 51,000 to 120,000 per month. In 2018, Colorado attracted one million international visitors and over 86 million United States-based travelers who spent about $22.3 billion and generated $1.37 billion in local and state tax revenue. From these data, it is safe to conclude that recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado has transformed the way businesses operate and gave the state's economy a boost.
After signing HB19-1263 to law in 2019, minor possessions of cannabis outside of the legal limits became a misdemeanor offense rather than a felony. Possession of up to two ounces of cannabis in Colorado is now legal. Owning between 3 and 12 ounces is illegal and considered a misdemeanor. Anyone caught with more than 12 ounces of cannabis commits a level 4 drug felony and will be arrested. Generally, marijuana possession arrests and marijuana sales arrests have witnessed a decline over time since the legalization of marijuana in the state. The Colorado Crime Statistics showed that marijuana-related DUI arrests reduced from 66.3% in 2011 before legalization to 13.2% in 2021.
According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer (CDE) system, Colorado law enforcers reported 44,454 marijuana possession arrests between 2021 and 2011. The total number of arrests for marijuana sales in the same period was 3,628. In 2021, arrests for marijuana possession in Colorado made up 16% of all drug arrests in the state. Marijuana enforcement comes with some racial imbalances in Colorado. Black residents are more liable to arrests for marijuana possession than white people in the state. Generally, black people are 1.5 times more likely than white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession.
In 2018, the arrest rate for marijuana possession per 100,000 residents in Colorado was 82.20. However, black residents' arrest rate was 130.51, while it was 84.90 for white residents. Between 2010 to 2018, the rates of marijuana arrest and marijuana possession arrest declined by 91.0% and 82.2%, respectively. However, the percentage change between this period for black people's possession arrest rate was 130.51%, while it was 84.9% for white people. Even though the property and violent crime rates continue to rise in Colorado, crimes associated with marijuana have remained stable since the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Colorado became a state in 1876. At that time, marijuana was legal and remained that way for a long time. However, in March 1917, Colorado legislators, in a bill sponsored by Andres Lucero of Las Animas, made the cultivation and use of marijuana a misdemeanor. Again, in 1929, the Colorado Legislature passed a law making the possession, sale, and distribution of marijuana a felony in the state. The United States government passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, criminalizing the cultivation and use of marijuana without a license. Despite this, the federal government never issued the license to anyone. Colorado legislators and some lawmen engaged in discussions for lowering the penalties on marijuana use and possession in 1970. By August that year, the punishment on recreational marijuana possession went from a felony to a misdemeanor.
In 1973, a Carbondale Republican, legislator Michael Strang introduced the bill to re-legalize marijuana in Colorado. However, the legislator's proposal did not make it out of the committee. The Colorado Legislature, in 1975, decriminalized possession, private use, and transportation of marijuana. Following decriminalization, possessing up to 1 ounce of marijuana became a petty offense whose fine was a maximum of $100. Marijuana possession was later increased to 2 ounces in 2010, however, with the possibility of 15 days jail time and a maximum of a $100 fine.
The then Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado signed into law the first medical marijuana bill named the Dangerous Therapeutic Research Act, introduced in 1979. However, this Act required federal government approval, but it never came. In 1981, Governor Lamma signed another bill sponsored by Representative John Herzog of Colorado Springs titled Therapeutic Use of Cannabis. The Representative intended to extend the program created in 1979 to 12 hospitals in Colorado and provide cancer patients with cannabis. Although this effort got acceptance by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it was short-lived. This is because the federal government had classified marijuana as a controlled substance with no therapeutic value in 1970.
Medical marijuana proponents in Colorado pushed Amendment 19 onto the ballot in 1998, but the votes were never counted by the then Secretary of State, Vikky Buckley. Vikky said there was no required number of signatures to get on the ballot in the first instance. Again, in 2000, these medical marijuana proponents pushed for the legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado. Eventually, in November 2000, 54% of Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, which enshrined medical marijuana as legal in Colorado's Constitution. Afterward, the success of the medical marijuana program sprang up the campaign to end marijuana prohibition in Colorado. On November 6, 2012, Colorado voters cast their votes to approve Amendment 64, which earned a 55.5% voter approval for recreational marijuana legalization. By this Amendment, the Colorado Constitution permits adults 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. They can also share the same amount with other adults. Amendment 64 makes a provision for state licensing of commercial regulation of businesses engaging in recreational marijuana trades. It, however, permits a local jurisdiction to prohibit marijuana businesses within their locality.
Cultivation of marijuana in the United States, the early 17th century.