High times in Colorado — thanks, in part, to pot

By Kevin Beese Staff reporter

Adam Orens (right), a founding partner of the Marijuana Policy Group, provides information to a joint Illinois House and Senate hearing on the potential legalization of marijuana. Orens said that much of the increase in Colorado’s pot sales over the past three years is attributed to residents of border states that have not legalized marijuana use. At the table with Orens is Colorado state Rep. Dan Pabon, who told Illinois lawmakers, “The work/life balance hasn’t charged” with the recreational use of marijuana legal in his state. (Kevin Beese/Chronicle Media)

Colorado state Rep. Dan Pabon went into the voting booth five years ago and cast his ballot against making marijuana legal for recreational use.

He was concerned about changing the dynamic of his state after just welcoming a baby boy into the world.

“I did not want Colorado to be a guinea pig for how the final resolution was made (on recreational marijuana use nationwide). I didn’t want us to be the model,” Pabon said.

Five years later, however, he is singing a different tune about his state having a hand in the marijuana business.

“It keeps the criminals and the cartels out of the business,” the Colorado legislator said. “… We never knew the size of the black market, but we have started to figure it out.”

He said the marijuana industry is part of the economic engine that has driven the state’s unemployment rate to a nation’s best 2.7 percent.

Illinois lawmakers have begun looking at legalizing the recreation use of marijuana to free up crime-fighting resources for other efforts and as a revenue generator for the state.

Estimates are that legalized marijuana could net Illinois as much as $699 million in new annual revenue.

Appearing in late November before a joint Illinois House and Senate hearing on the potential legalization of marijuana for recreational use, Pabon was asked if he sees “walking zombies,” individuals strung out on pot, on the streets of Colorado.

“There has been no discernible impact on anyone’s quality of life,” said Pabon, a Colorado state rep for the past six years.

He said pot’s legalization has led to the overall enjoyment and happiness of Colorado residents.

Pabon pointed to the state’s surging economy and national-low unemployment rate as signs that the legal recreation use of marijuana has not impeded Colorado residents.

“The work/life balance hasn’t changed,” Pabon said. “It is not the case that people are lying on their couch stoned, eating Cheetos and Goldfish, and forgetting to go to work.”

Adam Orens, a founding partner of the Marijuana Policy Group, noted that Colorado has a “robust and complete regulatory system” regarding recreational marijuana.

He noted that the state’s marijuana sales have gone from $700 million in 2014 to $1.3 billion last year. Sales are expected to hit $1.5 billion this year.

The founder of the Denver-based marijuana policy organization said that surveys show marijuana use has not significantly increased among Colorado residents since pot’s legalization, meaning much of that additional marijuana-related revenue is coming from residents of border states that have not legalized the drug.

Related: Illinois begins look at legalizing pot

Four out of five Colorado residents say that they do not smoke marijuana, Orens said.

Colorado’s marijuana sales generated more than $50 million in excise tax funds last year, money that was used to fund school construction projects.

Orens said that the marijuana industry has generated the equivalency of 15,000 full-time jobs in Colorado and the equivalency of another 23,500 full-time jobs in ancillary industries.

He said, however, that marijuana is not the golden goose some people perceive it to be.

“It does not balance the budget,” Orens said. “It is just one source of revenue that is used to balance the state of Colorado’s budget.”

Pabon recommended that if Illinois lawmakers opt to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, state leaders look at an overall tax rate somewhere in the vicinity of 37 percent. Going much higher than that, he said, would generate a viable turf for the black market to re-emerge.

“You don’t want to disincentivize people from buying marijuana legally,” Pabon said. “Regulating pays for itself. Not one single dime from the general fund pays for regulating marijuana. The state pays for alcohol and gambling regulations.”

He noted that law enforcement’s issues with marijuana have gone from the black market to the gray market, where individuals inside licensed marijuana shops are selling pot to customers illegally.





— High times in Colorado — thanks, in part, to pot —-