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Brookings Now

Will More States Follow Colorado and Washington in Marijuana Legalization?

Fred Dews

On January 1, Colorado became the first state to allow legal sales and possession of recreational marijuana, and Washington State will have marijuana retail shops in the spring. In an interview today on Southern California Public Radio, Fellow John Hudak addressed the question of whether other states will follow suit. Hudak, editor of the FixGov blog, recently wrote on CNN.com that 2014 “will be a year of wait and see. Indeed, 2014 will see the legalization movement gain greater political strength while facing the possibility of setbacks if the implementation of new laws fails.”

In today’s interview on the program “Take Two,” Hudak told host Alex Cohen that states will be looking at two things: a market perspective and public policy questions:

Are these states able to replace what is currently a black market for marijuana? Are people getting into the stores—getting into the state-run or state-regulated stores—and actually purchasing marijuana that way? Or are they still purchasing marijuana through illegal means because the cost, or the taxation level is too high?  

The other side of it … are the public policy questions that opponents of legalization are talking about. That is, will this lead to greater levels of addiction, will it lead to public health issues, traffic safety issues? If those concerns don’t come to fruition … I think you are going to see a lot of states saying, “You know what, legalization isn’t as bad as it was talked up to be. Maybe we should move forward.”

Hudak also spoke to “marijuana tourism,” after the host noted that many people were traveling to Colorado to buy marijuana. He said that “It has to have a real impact on those local economies … If marijuana tourism can become something that’s not only socially acceptable but economically sensible, I think you are going to see a lot of states say … we can limit taxation, we can reduce the burden on our localities, and we can take the burden off of taxpayers from an income tax perspective if we move ahead with this.”

What are the biggest challenges to more states following Colorado’s course?, the host asked. Hudak explained the “basic question of implementation”:

What Colorado and Washington are facing, the biggest problem that they are facing, is a basic question of implementation: Can the variety of state agencies that have to work together [e.g., regulatory, tax collection, law enforcement, public health agencies], can they all work together and all communicate together in an area of policy that in some ways is similar to alcohol and tobacco … but in a lot of ways is absolutely brand new. And if those agencies at the state level can come together and work efficiently, I think they are overcoming their biggest challenge.

Hudak said that other states would take at least a year to look at the data. “From a broader public policy perspective, I think you are going to have states getting data at the end of the year, next year” on issues such as addiction rates, tax revenue, and safety on the roads, and they will push ahead or be wary depending on what the data look like.

Hudak and Cohen also discussed the link between legalization of recreational and medical marijuana. As public opinion liberalizes on marijuana broadly, he said, states that may never legalize recreational marijuana “may be more willing to take that step forward in making medical marijuana more acceptable.”

Listen to the full interview on Southern California Public Radio.

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Fred Dews

Managing Editor, New Digital Products

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