Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 and became the first state in the U.S. to launch storefront sales in January 2014. As Canada prepares to legalize pot on July 1, 2018, here are some words of wisdom from current and former officials in the state:
Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s former director of marijuana co−ordination
Truly engage with stakeholders and the community. "This is a divisive issue that a lot of people have an opinion about, so the more those people are involved in shaping the vision of what this looks like, first of all the vision will get better, but secondly you won’t tear apart the community."
Focus on data early. "One of the things we didn’t do as well as we could have is set great baseline data. We were not measuring some things that were really important to us, like, how many kids were being suspended from school for marijuana? We were not measuring that, which meant we didn’t have a way to know if that changed after we legalized...Making sure you’re measuring things that matter to you so you can change policy along the way is really important."
Don’t underestimate public education. "You would be surprised what people don’t know at the beginning - how much they don’t know the laws, how much they don’t know, say, that it could take up to four hours to feel the effects of an edible. And you need a good youth prevention campaign, one that you really go out and have focus groups with kids to make sure it’s a message that would resonate with them."
State - or in Canada’s case, provincial - governments need to embrace the fact that legalization is happening and ensure their agencies are working well together. "One indicator of success in jurisdictions is when the executive government branch really supports the notion that legalization has occurred, that it’s coming, and they’re looking at ways to implement that as efficiently as possible."
Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Start small. "It’s always easier to liberalize your policy and the development of what legalization means rather than to try and bring it back in and get more restrictive down the road. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons learned for us."
Park your biases. "I’m a pediatrician and a parent and I came into this biased against it, thinking that this is going to be bad for kids and this is going to be bad because I was taught this is bad. I had to take all that and park it over here and say, ’Hey, I’m a regulator. The will of the people was to legalize this, so now I have to take it in the context of, OK, how do we make sure we’re doing this responsibly? How do we make sure we’re protecting public health?’ "
Dan Rowland, citywide communications adviser for the city and county of Denver
Set up regulations that make sense for the people who live in your community. "What do they want? Where do they want these businesses to be located? How many? And then making sure that you’re protecting those residents and businesses and keeping people safe. Essentially, creating a system where you can have legalized marijuana but it doesn’t negatively impact your city or town."
Banner image: Lewis Koski, left, former deputy senior director of enforcement at the Colorado Department of Revenue and Andrew Freedman, the state's former director of marijuana co-ordination. (Joe Mahoney/The Canadian Press)