Voters in four states—California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada—voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use last November, despite growing evidence from Colorado showing the policy’s deleterious effects. That means six states now allow recreational marijuana.

When Colorado voters authorized the policy in 2012, the state became a laboratory for experimenting with a legal narcotic, state revenues and crime rates.

Data gathered from several independent sources over the last three years shows legalization has failed to live up to the promises that it would eliminate the black market while creating massive tax revenues the state would use to boost law enforcement and education, and that kids wouldn’t be allowed to get their hands on it.

Taxes from marijuana dispensary sales pulled in only two-thirds of the amount projected in the first year. And though tax revenues increased over the next two years, so did the cost of solving drug-
related problems.

For instance, there was an influx of “marijuana migrants” flooding into cities like Denver, Aurora and Pueblo, which led to a significant spike in the homeless populations in those cities. In 2015, state and federal investigators discovered welfare recipients were illegally using their benefits to buy marijuana in Colorado dispensaries.

Legalization also led to increased crime. According to the 2016 Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report, published last September, crime increased statewide by 4.4 percent between 2014 and 2015—and that number includes a 14.3 percent spike in homicides. By comparison, the FBI reports that crime rates nationwide fell 4.3 percent between 2013 and 2015. 

And perhaps worst of all, hospitals report seeing more kids in emergency rooms suffering from accidental overdoses, while school resource officers report significantly higher rates of possession and drug use among students since the law passed. Black-market dispensaries operate online in Colorado, delivering products statewide—and most don’t confirm buyers’ ages. 

Meanwhile, legalizing the production and sale of marijuana hasn’t done anything to shut down smugglers. In 2015, investigators arrested 32 people statewide and seized more than two tons of marijuana and $10 million in cash from a single smuggling operation. Nearly everyone arrested was from outside Colorado—and some were from Mexico and Cuba.

Focus on the Family’s Thriving Values team has spent the last three years researching this topic, and has created a free resource to help citizens understand the social and health risks that come with legalizing marijuana. The negative effects on public health, crime rates and usage by children and teens are all featured segments.    

For More Information:

To download The Allure of Legalizing Marijuana, visit

Originally published in the January 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.