This is a big year in the movement to legalize pot. At least a dozen states are considering marijuana legalization. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, 60 percent of Americans reportedly support full legalization of marijuana for adults. We decided to visit the very first state to allow retail pot stores: Colorado. We found a lot of happy people, but also some hard lessons for other states considering the same path.
Deona Brack: Oh man it’s endless, like there’s not just flower anymore
Sharyl Attkisson: In 2014, Colorado became the first state to allow pot stores where anybody 21 or older can buy marijuana for fun.
Brack: You can eat it, dab it. I mean, there's so many things you can do with it! It's unreal.
Sharyl: We wanted to find out what Colorado has learned from its Rocky Mountain high.
Denver resident: It’s f****** awesome. Everybody’s getting high as hell.
Denver Resident: I think it’s the worst thing Colorado could have ever done. I didn’t vote for it because you got people on phones driving, and now you’ve got ‘em high.
Receptionist: One person is allowed up to an ounce per person, per day.
Sharyl: This is the sign-in desk at The Green Solution. There’s tight security and lots of controls. Brad Speidell and his brothers own the shop. They started with medical marijuana. Today they’re one of the biggest recreational marijuana chains in the state.
Sharyl: How many stores do you and your brothers have?
Brad Speidell: Currently in Colorado we have 15.
Sharyl: The showroom offers a complex menu of options combining the techno feel of an Ap-ple store with the upscale aura of a high-end makeup counter.
Brad Speidell: I feel like crime’s gone down. I feel like, you know, kids aren't as interested in it. When it comes to the alternative lifestyle, I think that it offers more benefits than anything.
Sharyl: Some call it a “green rush” that rivals Colorado’s gold rush— attracting tourists, new businesses and a record pace of people moving in.
Samantha Chin: What we're finding is people want to experience it in a number of different ways, whether it's a dispensary tour or a grow operation, taking a cannabis cooking class, for ex-ample. There's even Sushi rolling classes.
Sharyl: The recreational pot boom in the United States brought in $9 billion in legal sales last year. It’s bringing in tax revenue, creating job opportunities through stores, labs and even canna-bis bakeries. But is there a down side we’re not hearing so much about? Some certainly think so in Colorado Springs, about an hour outside of pot-heavy Denver. That’s where we’re headed now.
Sharyl: Colorado Springs opted out of recreational marijuana sales, sticking with limited sales for medical use, which voters approved in 2000. To find out why they’re not on the recreational ma-rijuana train, we met up with Mattie Gullixson at a medical dispensary called Epic Remedy. She’s a Colorado Springs official assigned to investigate the costs of legalized pot. Renze Wad-dington is the owner.
Waddington: Colorado Springs is medical only, so you have to have a doctor's recommendation and be registered with the state to receive or purchase medical marijuana.
Sharyl: One thing they’ve learned— pot laws and regulations are expensive, exceedingly com-plex and constantly changing.
Waddington: A patient elects to sign myself as their primary sender to purchase, and then we get allocated a certain amount of plants per patient.
Gullixon: And there’s this one up here, it’s an old gas station – Canna Meds.
Sharyl: Gullixson says it was all the unintended consequences of the city’s medical marijuana ex-perience that warded them off recreational. She’s analyzing trends to help figure out best practic-es for regulation.
Gullixon: I think we've got about 20 Starbucks in Colorado Springs, and we've got about 20 McDonald's in Colorado Springs and we've got 128 dispensaries.
Gullixon: So that footprint is pretty large.
Sharyl: In 2016, there was a spike in the state’s homeless population. And houses have become increasingly unaffordable. A typical Denver home is in the $400,000 dollar range. But the biggest surprise is what’s happened to the black market.
Sharyl: It turns out for all the predictions and hope that legalizing marijuana in Colorado would eliminate the black market here—that hasn’t turned out to be the case. In fact, officials in law enforcement and communities tell us they’re having to grapple with a whole new set of problems and costs.
Sharyl: Roger Vargason is a Colorado Springs police sergeant.
Vargason: Back in the day it was the gold rush, when everybody was sold that there was gold in the mountains and everybody should come to Colorado and make a fortune. Same thing's hap-pening with marijuana. I could take you to hundreds of houses in this community that have been ruined.
Sharyl: He took us to one neighborhood to see the pot version of crack houses.
Vargason: So now what you see is people are taking over these houses, growing a large amount of marijuana. Now it turns into the black market. They ship it out of state and other states are paying large amount of money for this marijuana. So everything that we were kind of told in re-gards to legalization that, that, you know, we would get rid of the black market, law enforcement wouldn't be involved in, it hasn't panned out. And it's just not within the city of Colorado Springs. It's throughout the whole state of Colorado.
Sharyl: Dealers rent homes like this one, illegally grow more marijuana than the law allows with-out proper paperwork and skip out.
Vargason: The biggest problem is not so much the plants, it’s what they did to the house. It had pushed up the wooden floors. They had cut down all the drywall in the basement. They've taken all the carpet out, essentially destroying the basement.
Sharyl: And they were just renters?
Vargason: They were just renters. So you look at a house like this, it's over half a million dollars and it's virtually been destroyed.
Sharyl: There’s also been a spike in other crime like robbery and car theft. In 2016, Colorado’s increase in crime rate was eleven times more than the average 30 biggest U.S. cities. Homicides— up almost 10%.
Mayor Suthers: That's another irony of this whole thing because the legalization proponents said, ‘oh, you know the cops are spending way too much time on, on this marijuana, they’re ticketing guys in the park and stuff like that. Let's, let's stop that.’ Well, guess what, we're spending an awful lot more time enforcing the marijuana laws than we did when it was all illegal.
Sharyl: Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers opposed legal marijuana. He’s a former prosecutor and state Attorney General.
Sharyl: What about people who say your county, your city, you— you're just ‘too uptight’
Suthers: Oh yeah,
Sharyl: or fighting progress? You're fighting something that nobody really sees as it's harmful?
Suthers: The industry always stereotypes me as kind of a drug war dinosaur. You know, I've been dealing with this drug problem for years as a prosecutor and I'm “just in a different centu-ry.” You know, that's fair. Everybody can analyze that. But I will tell you, I'm backed up on the size and scope of the black market that they said wouldn't exist and now exists in greater a na-ture and extent than they talked about. We have the highest rate of adolescent marijuana use in the country. We're not fixing our roads. Our school system hasn't been bailed out by marijuana money.
Sharyl: As more states consider legalizing marijuana, the Trump administration abandoned an ear-lier threat to crack down on recreational pot in states where it is le-gal. That after an appeal from Colorado Senator Cory Gardner.
Sharyl: What is your best advice in a nutshell for these other states and cities?
Mayor Suthers: Slow down.
Brack: I believe it's just going to keep continuing to grow. Just like any other industry, you know, we're just in the beginning of it right now. We've been legal for a few years now and honestly it's just going to keep getting better and better and better.
Chin: I think when you have money driving and industry like this, money going back into the community, the gene has already been let out of the bottle. You can’t put it back in.
North Dakota just rejected recreational marijuana use, as did Arizona and Ohio in recent years. Michigan just voted to legalize recreational pot and pot advocates say they'll have ballots going in many more states in 2020.