DENVER — Sunday marks ten years since Coloradans voted to legalize recreational marijuana.
It was a historic moment not only for the state but for the nation.
Ricardo Baca is the CEO and founder of Grasslands, a marketing agency that works with cannabis businesses in Colorado.
"You know, now it seems so normalized because we've lived with this for a decade,” Baca said. “But when you put yourself in our shoes back in the day, we were the first in the world to do this. And really, truly everything has changed since then."
Several other states have followed Colorado’s lead.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states now allow recreational marijuana use. Thirty-seven states allow some form of medicinal use.
“For so long, we've just been listening to a campaign of fear in terms of what can happen and what will happen. And now 10 years later, we're seeing that a lot of that fear was misplaced,” Baca said.
In 2012, prominent politicians opposed Amendment 64, including then-Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
At a recent event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the passage of Amendment 64, both leaders said they were wrong.
“I was wrong 10 years ago,” Hancock said. “You can do this right, and you can do it responsibly.”
“It really was a question of a societal wave,” Hickenlooper said. “If you’re going to be in the forefront of something like that, you better be pretty darn sure. I feel pretty darn sure now that this is such a better, in terms of almost every measure, such a better societal decision than what I grew up in, and it’s going to have huge impacts.”
Baca said Colorado’s cannabis industry still faces challenges.
Marijuana sales have fallen from their pandemic highs.
In August, the state reported $131 million in recreational marijuana sales compared to $183 million in July 2020, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
“Right now, it's no secret that the cannabis industry is in flux,” Baca said. “It's had a bad couple of months. Part of that's coming down from this pandemic bump of curiosity.
But we're also seeing sales lagging and companies really struggling for a number of reasons.”
Baca said regulations also make it tough on businesses.
“I'd say the biggest area that we need an immediate change in Colorado is the peeling away of these overly restrictive regulations,” Baca said.
Despite his concerns, he remains optimistic about the future of the industry and hopes marijuana will be de-criminalized nationwide.
Last month, President Joe Biden announced his administration would begin reviewing how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.
Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin and LSD.
Baca said he hopes the administration doesn’t just reclassify marijuana but de-classifies it entirely.
“We need to align our current reality with the reality of our experiences with this plant over the last 10-20 years and make sure that we're completely de-scheduling cannabis,” Baca said.
Not everyone favors de-scheduling marijuana.
The Republican Study Committee, which is made up of 158 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently released its Family Policy Agenda, which said Congress should not legalize marijuana, despite a growing list of states and cities doing so.
“This has led to an explosion of marijuana use among children, which is having a hugely negative impact on their health. Congress should not legalize marijuana, while also taking steps to constrain this new industry’s ability to harm children,” the policy proposal reads. “At the very least, Congress should direct the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to gather data and conduct studies on the health impacts of THC use during childhood and early adolescence with a special focus on deaths by suicide and those involved in violent crime to provide Congress and the public with further information about these dangers.”
The most recent national Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows marijuana use among teens remained somewhat steady from 2009 to 2019.
The survey, which is conducted every two years during the spring semester, also showed a marked decrease in the number of teens using marijuana since 1995.
If the federal government ever decriminalized marijuana, Baca said Colorado could take some credit for helping to model the way 10 years ago.
“A decade from now, I hope we're talking about the legalization of cannabis, the decriminalization of psychedelics and other drugs, because drugs should be treated like a public health issue,” Baca said. “They should have never been criminalized to begin with.”
While voters approved Amendment 64 in November 2012, marijuana sales in Colorado didn’t start until January 2014.
Since that time, sales have totaled more than $13.4 billion, according to the most recent report from the Colorado Department of Revenue.