Colorado's director of marijuana coordination said the legalization hasn't led to a significant increase in demand for the drug in the Rocky Mountain State in the short term, although legalization is "a heavy lift" and the related revenue isn't a panacea for cash-strapped states.
Andrew Freedman told reporters during a Statehouse availability on Tuesday that most of those wanting to buy marijuana legally were those who were previously using it illegally.
"It’s generally people who were using marijuana in the unregulated system who’ll be the opening people who use it in the regulated system," Freedman said, speaking in the office of Sen. Josh Miller (D-Cranston), one of the sponsors of a marijuana legalization bill. "And so don’t expect to see Rhode Island to look massively different the day after legalization than it did the day before."
Freedman said the longer term impacts of marijuana legalization are less certain. "Long term, as commercialization gets up and running, maybe you will see a difference in usage patterns, and that depends on how you legalize it and you allow for advertising it, and those sorts of things," he said.
The pro-legalization group Regulate RI is paying for Freedman's travel expenses between Colorado and back, although he said he does not have an official stance on the merits of marijuana legalization. He is also talking with lawmakers and staffers for Governor Gina Raimondo during his visit.
The statute that created Freedman's post in the office of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper stipulated that he would advise other states. "I have no skin in the game on whether or not Rhode Island legalizes, but if they choose to go down that road, or even if they choose to go down a tangent of their current road, I think it'd be helpful for them to know what public safety, public health and youth prevention lessons we've already learned," Freedman said.
In particular, Freedman called for state officials to think sooner, rather than later, on how to send a message discouraging young people and people with a tendency toward addiction from using marijuana.
In Colorado, "The good news is in the short term we haven't seen massive spikes in youth usage or adult usage ...." he said. "The thing we're going to watch over the future is whether or not normalization of marijuana usage and perception of harm goes down and whether that's going to have an impact long-term with youth."
Rhode Island lawmakers are considering legalizing marijuana, although the outlook remains far from certain, particularly in an election year. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Raimondo have said they may support a non-binding referendum to gauge public opinion.
Freedman said Colorado's roughly $100 million boost from legalization in the last calendar year is a relative pittance in a state with a $27 billion budget, particularly considering how 40 percent of the marijuana revenue went back into regulation. "Don't expect to pay teachers, don't expect to pave roads, don't expect healthcare costs to come down because of marijuana regulation."
The out of state coordinator said many banks in Colorado will not accept revenue from legal marijuana sales, although he said concerns about increased violence due to the presence and movement of cash have not materialized.
Freedman called legalization "a heavy lift for everybody. It comes with just a lot of different implications. Be expected to have your voice heard on every single issue that comes up. It's not an impossible thing to tackle, but we've never regulated this before. So more and more we have to talk about how is this going to affect your school, how is it going to affect your commute to work, how is it going to affect the workforce. That's a conversation everybody has to get involved in."