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What States Can Learn From Colorado’s Marijuana Regulations

Luke Runyon

Colorado was the first state in the nation to allow both medical and recreational marijuana sales, soon followed by Washington, Oregon, the District of Columbia and Alaska. 

The 2016 election could be a turning point for marijuana legalization for much of the nation.

Arizona, California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine will vote on whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana. 

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Gov. John Hickenlooper, is frequently called by legislators and officials wanting to know what works in Colorado and what doesn’t.

Here are Freedman’s top three tips for states looking to legalize marijuana:

1. Have a hard count of marijuana plants.

Freedman: Basically the criminal side of it has seen how loose our home grow laws are, and how many different entrance points there are into it, and realized that you can grow in your basement many many more plants than you can grow in other states. They’ve banded together and there is an organized criminal element that is using our home grow system to grow and divert that marijuana out of state, because there is an economic incentive to do so.

Credit Governor of Colorado's Office
Governor of Colorado's Office
Andrew Freedman is the director of marijuana coordination for the state.

2. The majority of marijuana plants should be grown in industrial or agricultural areas.

Freedman: Statutorily, we believe that we should still create a residential hard count of how many you can have at home, and the rest should be grown in zoned industrial or zoned agricultural areas, where they have to openly tell police and fire departments, ‘here’s how many we are growing in this warehouse and … we are either caregivers, or patients, or this is our recreational grow,’ and some amount of oversight that it’s actually going to the places that they [the growers] claim to be going.

3. Educate your public.

Freedman: Probably the most important thing to get up and running before you start selling marijuana is really helpful public education campaigns that really talk to people about responsible use and talk to youth about prevention messaging.


The economic impact of the industry continues to grow, and other states are taking notice. Research from the Marijuana Policy Group shows that retail marijuana had an economic impact of $2.39 billion in 2015 and funded over 18,000 jobs. Public support for legalization is at an all-time high. Gallup found that 57 percent of the nation thinks marijuana should be legal. The Federal government doesn’t agree, which keeps marijuana products from crossing state lines, ultimately keeping Colorado’s marketplace closed to most influences. But with California, the 6th largest economy in the world, poised to pass their ballot initiative, prices in Colorado could be affected in the long term. Polls show it is also likely to pass in Massachusetts and Maine. Nevada voters are evenly split.

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