A few days from now, people in Colorado will be able to walk into shops and buy marijuana – no doctor’s prescription required. In Washington state , they’ll be able to do the same thing by March or April. The Christian Science Monitor says 2014 will mark a radical departure from the norm of the past 80 years, when marijuana possession and sales were treated as crimes throughout the globe. (Even in the Netherlands, famously pot-tolerating, marijuana is not officially legal.) As other states weigh whether to follow the leads of Colorado and Washington, they will watch to see if a marijuana industry that is legal and regulated by government – rather than illegal and hounded by government – turns out to be less damaging than a black-market underground one.
The answer probably is years away, as the two states fine-tune their approaches to oversight and as researchers study the effects of legalized pot on crime rates, teenagers’ use and addiction rates, impaired driving, tax revenues, and a host of other potential costs and benefits. “There is stuff we’re going to get wrong – whether it’s tax rates, enforcement, the relationship [between recreational and] medical marijuana,” says law Prof. Sam Kamin of the University of Denver, who served on a task force that recommended regulations for Colorado’s marijuana industry. “The hope is that we have a system that is easy enough to change … and that people will have some patience and realize we’re the first jurisdiction in the world trying to do this.”