10News examines impact of legalized marijuana

Posted at 6:01 PM, Oct 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-10 22:14:08-04

Election Day is just five weeks away, and within days many of you will receive your mail-in ballots.

One of the most important decisions you'll make on Nov. 8 is California Proposition 64 -- the legalization of marijuana.

We wanted to give you a glimpse of what life is like in a world of recreational pot, so we traveled to Colorado, where marijuana has been legal for three full years. We discovered where there is cannabis, there is cash.

"Like I said, either the Mad-Man Kush or the Grand Doggie if you're looking for a heavier high."

That's not your average conversation, but one you'll hear at the cash register at Medicine Man Dispensary in Denver if you ask for advice. And the cash is flowing at Medicine Man, mainly because that's the only form of payment accepted at Denver's largest marijuana dispensary.

Pot is legal in Colorado, yet not fully welcomed by the banking industry. But there is money to be made in marijuana.

"This year, we'll do about $18 million in business," said Andy Williams, who co-owns Medicine Man with his brother Pete.

Medicine Man is not just a dispensary, it's a grow house. There are rows and rows with dozens of strains. You can find everything from Kool Aid Kush to Cookies and Cream. They sell hybrids, edibles, clones and drinks.

Marijuana is a $1 billion industry in Colorado, generating over $135 million in revenue last year. Business is good, and growth has been tremendous since marijuana advanced from just medical to recreational.

"We went from 100,000 patients to one million customers in Colorado," said Williams, who currently has about 85 employees and plans to add 30 more next year.

Even Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was firmly against the legalization of marijuana, has since softened his stance.

Andrew Freedman, the state's marijuana czar, said, "I think he's been pleasantly surprised about how well it's worked out in the short term."

And yet, there is still much work to be done. The 16th Street Mall in Denver, a mile and a quarter stretch of shops and restaurants in downtown, was said to be overrun with young homeless "twenty somethings" who traveled here from all over the United States just for the legal pot.

Denver police now assign an officer to each block paid for by the taxpayers and the business district.

At this point, state officials say it is still too early to draw any conclusions about the effects of legal marijuana in Colorado, but here are some of the basics, according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety: marijuana possession arrests are down 47%. That's to be expected now that marijuana is legal. But marijuana-related DUI deaths are up 44%. Also, use across the board for all ages is up. And according to at least one report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Trafficking Area, it has increased significantly for youth. And that's a troubling trend.

"Twelve to 17 year olds; No. 1 in the nation," said Tom Gorman with the Rocky Mountain HIDTA. "Seventy-four percent higher than the national average, which should be a concern."

A recent poll showed Coloradans still favor legal marijuana, but those in power warn be educated and aware that what's to come can be both profitable and poisonous.

"If you just vote and walk away, you've not answered the hard questions," warned Freedman.

There is a lot to think about before Nov. 8 for Californians. Cash can be made, especially for California, which is one of the world's largest economies.

The Business Insider recently published an article stating that some economists predict the marijuana industry in California could be as large as $4 billion within three years.

In a statewide poll conducted by SurveyUSA and released on Sept. 29, 52 percent of Californians surveyed said they would vote in favor of Prop. 64, while 41 percent said they would vote against it. Six percent were undecided when asked, while one percent said they would not vote either way.