Assessing the cannabis legalization debate: lessons learned from the Colorado and Washington experiment
Neener, Michael C.
Smith, Paul Jonathan
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Cannabis is illegal as far as federal law is concerned; yet recent trends in the United States indicate it is moving toward more widespread legalization. While both sides of the legalization debate pose valid arguments, it has been difficult to assess aspects of these arguments in the past. Now that Colorado and Washington have fully legalized cannabis, what does data demonstrate to support or rebut these arguments and what problems have sporadic legalization led to in the drug control space? This thesis examines regulatory, financial, and criminal data in Colorado and Washington to identify advantages and disadvantages of legalizing cannabis. Findings indicate commercialization of legal cannabis creates a sizeable economic stimulus due to demand satisfaction and displacement of drug trafficking organizations for supply. Crime levels increased as compared to national averages while drug arrest rates remained stable, which could be influenced by other factors. Overall, as a result of disparate national policy, Colorado and Washington have become source states for cannabis distribution as findings indicate spillage of legal cannabis into black markets nationally. This thesis recommends rescheduling cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act to further research the drug while increasing state civil asset forfeiture options in prohibitionist states to facilitate criminal enforcement.
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