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Marijuana Mistakes

Marijuana Mistakes

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado's Marijuana Era just turned five.  

And in these short few years, $573,591,933 has flowed into the state's coffers – enough to buy the Hawaiian island of Lanai.

But, milestone aside, the state's former "Marijuana Czar" says we weren't ready for the drug to go public – and still don't know the full consequences. 

"We really are, flying blind and trying to make the best guesses that we can," said Andrew Freedman, Governor John Hickenlooper's appointed Marijuana Czar.  "I don't think we were ready.  But, I don't think it's possible to be ready."

Freedman was supposed to join a firm in DC after finishing law school at Harvard, but instead was tapped to craft much of the laws after voters approved legalization in 2012.  The position has since been dissolved, allowing Freedman to create his own marijuana consulting firm, Freedman & Koski.  He now travels the world, guiding state and local governments on how to best create the do's and don'ts of marijuana legalization – using Colorado's wins and missteps as a template. 

Freeman describes himself as a "marijuana agnostic" -- ask him if he's pro- or anti-marijuana, and he pleads the 5th.  That said, looking back, he says the state's learned the hard way about what it should have done differently.

So, where does Freedman think we went wrong?

Where's the Money?

A lot of Coloradans thought the extra tax revenue would solve aging schools. It hasn't.

"I do think people walked into the ballot booth and thought, 'This will solve all of our budget problems.' And it's not.  And it's hard.  We just can't solve major issues with marijuana money," admitted Freedman. 

True, $114 million has been spent on school construction since marijuana was approved.  But Colorado schools have requested $2.8 billion – 70 times the amount available.  Conversely, a good portion of the money has been used to construct permanent housing access for homeless. 

Violent Crime

Abuse of the home grow system, according to Freedman, invites crime. 

"It's a bit of an Achilles' heel in our system right now," said Freedman.  This is why the state put a clamp on the number of pot plants allowed: as of January 1st, only 12 plants will be allowed, instead of the current 99. 

According to the El Paso County Sheriff, its SWAT team has busted 53 illegal grows this year within the county -- and blames legalization for the spike. 

Use and Abuse

 "I wish we had focused more on public education before we started the sale of marijuana.  A lot of people were smoking outside, because they didn't know they weren't allowed to smoke outside.  We had people taking it through the airport, because they didn't know they weren't allowed," said Freedman. 

That's one big flashpoint he tells other states, that have legalized marijuana: take out a loan and create a public awareness campaign. 

Public Safety

Another demarcation, in Freedman's opinion: lagging technology for law enforcement.  Testing for a driver's impairment is coming, but it should have been available years ago. 

"The fact that we weren't doing this research before at the federal level is really disconcerting.  This technology should have been here 50 years ago."
 


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