Cannabinomics: The Marijuana Policy Tipping Point: Where does Colorado land?

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According to Christopher Fichtner, a psychiatrist and former Illinois mental health director, the country's on the verge of radical marijuana policy change (i.e., legalization) -- something Fichtner writes about in his new book, Cannabinomics: The Marijuana Policy Tipping Point. And it looks like Colorado might just push the country over the edge.

According to Fichtner, the revolution is coming because three public policy trajectories are currently converging nationwide:

1) The medical marijuana movement is growing rapidly.

2) People are realizing marijuana prohibition causes more public health problems than it resolves.

3) Policymakers are discovering marijuana's financial potential.

In many ways, Colorado appears to be ground zero for the marijuana policy tipping point. The way medical marijuana has blossomed here has captured international attention, as has the fact that state policymakers decided to both regulate MMJ and capitalize on it. This past spring, Colorado became the first state to authorize a statewide marijuana distribution system that has already brought in millions of dollars in new state fees, $9 million of which Governor Bill Ritter hopes to use to ease Colorado's financial woes.

But what about the second policy trajectory that Fichtner identifies? Is Colorado's public-health community shifting its opinion of marijuana? The adversarial relationship between the state health department and marijuana activists -- discussed in this wide-ranging interview with Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado's outgoing chief medical officer -- suggests otherwise, as does the fact that this past legislative session, law enforcement came out in force against any bills that would in any way legitimize dispensaries. In 2008, Colorado ranked fourth in the nation for number of pot plants seized -- after California, Florida and Washington. And a referendum requiring the Denver Police Department to make pot its lowest law enforcement priority has done little to curb local marijuana-related arrests.

Still, Colorado's war on drugs may be shifting. Denver is developing innovative drug-court programs, for example, and aside from some well-publicized exceptions, law enforcement and marijuana dispensaries have learned to play nice.

Who knows: If the attempt to legalize marijuana fails at the California polls this November, all the right elements might converge here to make Colorado the first state to officially roll back pot prohibition. Mr. Gladwell should put that in his pipe and smoke it.

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