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EDITORIAL: The Colorado experience

Judging from some of the reports from Colorado since voters there moved to decriminalize marijuana in 2012, one might think the measure has been all rainbows and unicorns — and perhaps some users’ experiences have had them seeing both. There have, however, been some significant drawbacks.

As the Review-Journal’s Colton Lochhead reported, Colorado’s experience provides plenty of lessons for voters in Nevada and four other states considering legalizing marijuana in the Nov. 8 election. Mr. Lochhead spent a week in Denver, learning how legalization has affected the state and how it might affect Nevada if Question 2 passes.

The thought in Colorado was that legalizing marijuana would bolster the state’s revenue streams via tax collections. But just as excessive taxes against cigarettes and the like create black markets, they’ve done likewise in Colorado. Mr. Lochhead noted that with all the sales, excise and other special taxes mixed in, recreational marijuana bought in Colorado typically carries about a 30 percent tax. So the purchase of a $150 ounce of marijuana at a retail shop can end up costing consumers close to $200.

Jim Gerhardt, vice president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, said that same quality of pot sells for closer to $100 on the street. A 100 percent markup creates a huge incentive for illegal dealing. Said Mr. Gerhardt: “We’ve seen nothing but black market problems flourishing. Marijuana is something people can grow in their home. Little tiny amounts of that can be worth hundreds and thousands of dollars. And really, legalization hasn’t changed any of that.”

Policing has also been an issue. Any form of public consumption remains illegal in Colorado, but that hasn’t stopped people from partaking in the open. As Mr. Lochhead reported, anyone who takes a walk down the popular 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver — a mile-long, open-air pedestrian mall — won’t have to look, or sniff, for long before stumbling upon someone using marijuana. Denver police cited about 760 people for using pot in public in both 2014 and 2015, the first years the city tracked that data.

Furthermore, while total arrests for driving under the influence have declined since the start of 2014, the share of pot-related DUIs rose from 12.2 percent in 2014 to 14.6 percent in 2015. And this year, marijuana DUIs are trending at a much higher rate, accounting for about one-quarter of all DUI citations, according to police.

Among other issues that have cropped up: negative impacts on tourism, including loss of convention business in Denver, something that would strike a big blow in Las Vegas; and overdose dangers, particularly in the edible marijuana market.

There’s a lot for Nevada voters to digest before they cast their votes on Question 2. As Colorado’s experience proves, the initial high of legalization can quickly wear off.

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