A Study Of One Colorado County Finds Legal Marijuana Has More Benefits Than Problems

Photo Credit: Mathew Sumner

A study of one Colorado county has found cannabis provides a great economic benefit, even with the challenges it presents for social services and law enforcement. The study, done by the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University-Pueblo, dispels some of the concerns surrounding the legalization of marijuana.

Overall, embracing the legal cannabis industry resulted in $35 million for Pueblo County in 2016, according to the study. That includes about $58 million in positive economic impact minus the $23 million spent by the county on marijuana-related programs.

Migrating to Colorado?

One of the persistent criticisms of legalized marijuana in Colorado is that it will attract people from all around the nation looking for legal pot. Many fear homeless people will especially take advantage of the situation, researchers said.

However, the study found that is not the case. While the county faces issues with the homeless, that situation is caused more by rising housing and utility costs than it is because of legal weed, the report found. Timothy McGettigan, a sociologist with the university, told Colorado public radio that “the idea that people have been coming to Colorado from out of state in droves, spending their last dime on cannabis and then lining up at soup kitchen queues and at social service agencies is not really accurate.”

First of its kind

Pueblo County is located on Interstate 25 south of Denver, about midway between the city and the border with New Mexico. The county population is just over 159,000.

The study — the first of the its kind to study the impacts of legalized marijuana on a specific place — looked at the impact of legalized marijuana in a variety of areas. They include:

Social demographics: Researchers reported little change in this area post-legalization, finding no quantitative evidence that the county has been impacted by people moving in from elsewhere.

Homeless population: Researchers found no connection between an increased number of homeless people and marijuana. They noted that utility costs have risen, and that one utility had cut off power to 7,000 homes. This has had a bigger impact on homelessness than marijuana.

Student use: The report found that legalized marijuana had not increased use of cannabis by high school students in the county.

Crime: There has been an increase in crime, but it is property crime and drug arrests related to heroin, not pot. The report also found an increased number of pot seizures in the county but speculate that this relates to a large number of illegal marijuana grow houses.

Use by pregnant women: The report found a 3.1 percent increase in reports of THC present in pregnant women after legalization went into effect.

Economics: The county has experienced increased real estate prices, but the report could not directly correlate that with legalized marijuana. Researchers also predicted that those just now getting into the cannabis business may have a greater chance for failure, and the area already is seeing some consolidation of marijuana operations.

Taxes: As the price of legal marijuana continues to drop, the report projects the country will see less marijuana sales tax revenue.

The report received enthusiastic response from local politicians. Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace told the Denver Post, “The good news for the citizens of Colorado is this has been a net positive for our community.”