A year of legalized recreational marijuana hasn’t changed many Coloradans’ minds on the groundbreaking shift — though more than one-third say the state’s reputation has taken a hit, according to a SurveyUSA poll done for The Denver Post.
More than 90 percent of the respondents who voted in the 2012 election on Amendment 64 — the measure allowing adults to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana passed 54.8 percent to 45.1 percent — said they would vote the same way today.
“I’d say there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially if the priority is to keep it out of the hands of children and away from drivers, to make sure people are not driving intoxicated,” said Dan Berlau, a 35-year-old poll respondent from Denver who voted for legalization and would do so again. “But despite those shortcomings, in general, people who worried the sky would fall have been proved wrong.”
When it comes to gauging how people around the country view Colorado in the wake of the vote, 38 percent indicated that the new state law has negatively impacted that impression, compared with 31 percent who felt the measure improved the state’s image and 22 percent who said it had no impact.
Conversation with out-of-state relatives and others has led 59-year-old poll respondent Denise Willey of Golden to lament the way legalization has made her home state the butt of never-ending jokes — from late-night television hosts to people she has encountered on the street.
“Just the constant ‘mile high’ references they think are funny I find sometimes offensive,” said Willey. “It used to be because of our beautiful surroundings, but now people use that term because of legalized marijuana. I think it’s sad where we’ve gone.”
But Davelle Reggans of Aurora said her impression is that out-of-staters look more positively on Colorado as a result of the vote, if only for their perception that the industry, now expanded beyond earlier medicinal availability, has had an economic impact.
“In talking to people out of state, they think our state is booming, and they think it’s part of that,” said Reggans, 70. “Because of legalized marijuana, people think it has brought jobs to this state.”
Year in review:
Special report from The Cannabist
The marijuana poll indicated that legalization attracted at least some outside interest: 12 percent of interviewees said friends or family visiting from out of state had asked to be taken to a recreational marijuana shop.
Coloradans are split on how well the state has regulated the legal pot industry.
Fifty-three percent ranked that performance as either fair or poor, while 42 percent called it good or excellent.
But on the question of how well Colorado has educated youth about marijuana, nearly two-thirds rank those efforts as fair or poor.
In the confidential survey, not quite one in four adults (22 percent) said they use marijuana, and most of those people — 70 percent — said their level of use had stayed the same since legalization.
Pot use is more prevalent among men, among people under 50 and among those with no more than a high school education, according to the survey.
Smoking ranked as the most common preference among users at 78 percent, compared with 15 percent who employ “vaping,” a vapor-based simulation of smoking, and 5 percent who most often consume edibles.
Among the more than three-fourths of Coloradans who said they don’t use it themselves, 73 percent said they know someone who does. And 59 percent of the nonusers said they voted for legalization.
Recreational pot shops and medical marijuana dispensaries stand as the most popular sources among those who partake, at 45 percent and 24 percent, respectively. Nearly one in five said they get their marijuana from a friend (18 percent), while others grow their own (7 percent) or have a dealer (6 percent).
The margin of error for questions asked of all 800 respondents ranged from plus-or-minus 2.3 to 3.5 percentage points, while questions asked of a smaller subset of those interviewed varied from plus-or-minus 3.6 to 7.6.
A majority of those who see an upside to legalized recreational marijuana, 55 percent, said that tax revenue has been the greatest benefit. But opinions among those who perceive a downside were more diverse, with 23 percent pointing to driving under the influence, 22 percent citing teen marijuana use and 18 percent noting loose regulations.
Survey respondent Byron St. Clair of Westminster said he’s just old enough to remember Prohibition — and he doesn’t think that turned out well.
“The negative effects of trying to enforce a ban on marijuana exceed the bad effects of letting people have it,” said St. Clair, 90. “It’s not a good idea, and I wish people wouldn’t do it, but trying to stop them is not practical. We’ve already got too many people in jail. The tax revenue (with legalization) is all well and good, but I don’t want our police force taken up trying to chase down people selling a little bit of marijuana.”
In the run-up to last fall’s gubernatorial election, Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a debate that Colorado voters were “reckless” to legalize retail marijuana.
A year after legalization, survey respondents who said they voted in favor of the measure disagree with his claim, while those who voted against it support his position.
William Sellers, a 47-year-old Army veteran in Colorado Springs, said that a couple of years ago, he might have agreed with Hickenlooper that such a move was reckless.
“I’m not a big advocate of legalization,” he said. “But as I’ve grown and paid attention, I don’t think the state acted recklessly at all. It’s not like they rushed into it. They made plans, took time out and worked out a lot of issues. And in some places, they’re still working them out.”