The Pros of Legalizing Marijuana in California

San Francisco Bridge California
Photo by: IM Photo/Shutterstock

Many people are asking whether or not next year is the year that California finally legalizes recreational cannabis sales. It’s been predicted that legalization will be on the 2016 CA ballot as long as a well-drafted initiative can be completed in time. If it makes it to the ballot, there’s a pretty significant chance that it will be voted into law.

Until a few years ago when the first two states passed bills to legalize recreational cannabis, the questions on most American’s minds were simple: what are the pros and cons of legalizing cannabis, and does legal weed help or hinder social progress?

At that point, those questions were difficult to answer because there were really no case studies to work off of where states had experimented with a legal recreational market. Other than a few states with relatively small-scale medical programs, the United States didn’t have many real-life examples of legalized cannabis to help make an informed decision.

Today, however, is a different story. Four states have now legalized cannabis for recreational use, and newly devised medical marijuana programs are popping up all over the country. Colorado and Washington have been selling recreational cannabis in licensed and regulated dispensaries for over a year. With much more information to go off of, we can put together a much more accurate analysis of what legalizing cannabis really does to a society. That said, here are some of the pros we’ve seen from Colorado after more than one year legalized:


Marijuana Arrests Way Down

This one may seem obvious, but the implications for society are huge. Cannabis-related arrests in Colorado dropped over 84% since 2010. That means less money spent by the state on prosecuting non-violent citizens who pose no threat to our society, and less people incarcerated due to ridiculous drug-war policies. Each simple possession arrest costs the justice system around $300 to enforce, process, and adjudicate. A simple estimate shows that the state could have already saved over $2 million in adjudication costs; not to mention citizens who are saved from hefty possession fines.

Employment Rate is Up

Since legalizing, over 16,000 jobs have been created in Colorado. These jobs vary from dispensary workers to management to corporate-level jobs in ancillary businesses and services. New start-ups are opening every month, and many CO-based companies have expanded into other states, creating jobs there too. If cannabis was legalized nationally, or at least in most states, the number of jobs created would increase exponentially.

The Roads are Safer

The first day of recreational sales in Colorado was on January 1, 2014. In the first 11 months of 2014, there was a 3% drop in traffic fatalities in the state. While this may seem like a small number, it’s actually very significant trend based on previous years, which were very consistent. While correlation does not equal causation, it’s certainly an interested statistic. It’s also ironic that many anti-legalization pundits predicted that legal cannabis would significantly increase traffic fatalities and plunge us complete into societal chaos when in reality fatalities the roads became a safer place to drive.

Crime has Dropped

Since legal cannabis has been implemented in Colorado, the department of justice has reported that crime has actually gone down in the state. Burglaries are down over 9%, violent crime is down by over 2%, and property crime has decreased by over 8%. Are people just more chill? Maybe. But it could also have something to do with the fact that we aren’t criminalizing people for using or possessing a substance that shouldn’t be illegal in the first place.

Tax Revenue is Way Up

Revenue generated by Colorado from recreational cannabis sales was over $40 million in 2014. In fact, with a significantly greater population that Colorado, California would see higher tax revenues and a much larger market potential if they were to legalize cannabis. The extra money in Colorado is set for use in schools, public health, and tax refunds for the public.

With all the benefits we’ve seen from legalizing cannabis in Colorado, it’s clear that it would be a benefit to California as well. That said, the simplest reason that CA should legalize cannabis is that the market already exists. Thousands of dispensaries are operational in California, but very few are licensed, tax-paying businesses. It’s estimated that the California MMJ market is worth over $1 billion, but those numbers are difficult to process because no one actually knows how many shops are open in the state, and very few of those shops actually report or pay taxes on their revenue. If this market was regulated and taxed, it would mean huge gains for the state.