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Going 360: How recreational marijuana rolled out across U.S.

Marijuana Legalization
Posted at 9:18 AM, Jan 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-12 19:38:50-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sales of recreational marijuana in Missouri could be weeks away.

Right now there are 21 states, plus the District of Columbia that have legalized adult cannabis use.

KSHB 41 talked to local reporters across the country about what the process of legalization was like in their respective states.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana sales. Voters approved Amendment 64 more than 10 years ago. Recreational sales started in 2014.

The “Green Rush” increased employment, real estate prices and tax revenue, according to a blog post by a Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City advisor. The KC Fed’s regional coverage includes Colorado.

But marijuana sales are not legal everywhere in Colorado. Amendment 64 left legalization up to individual municipalities.

Sales in Colorado have slowed in recent years, as more states have legalized the drug.

Alasyn Zimmerman is a reporter with KOAA in Colorado Springs. Voters there rejected recreational cannabis sales in November.

Zimmerman said proponents argued the city was missing out on tax revenue. The tax revenue could have been used for public safety, mental health programs and PTSD programs for veterans.

Opponents, like Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers, argued legalization could deter the defense industry, and essentially promote drug use by accepting tax revenue.

“It lost by a pretty wide margin here in Colorado Springs,” Zimmerman said. “Attitudes are shifting, but at the same time, a lot of people are realizing — well, it's becoming legal in other places. Maybe we don't want it here.”

The KC Fed blog post also notes some challenges in the decade since Amendment 64 passed. The author points out challenges to the industry include banking issues and concerns from some local officials about health and safety.

Detroit, Michigan

Simon Shaykhet and Sarah Grimmer have covered different parts of the process in Michigan.

In 2018, Shaykhet detailed how different local governments handled the public feedback process.

"There's certainly people that see the good in opening dispensaries and allowing for these businesses to operate legally with regulation,” Shaykhet said. “But there's also a sense of reluctancy in some places, who aren't sure about how they would work and aren't necessarily comfortable with the business that's being done.”

Grimmer covered last November’s elections, where voters in a dozen cities decided their local ordinances. Voters in seven of the 12 cities approved of at least one dispensary moving in.

“It seems like the general consensus is slowly but surely more and more people are getting on board,” Shaykhet said.

She also pointed out that the pool of applicants for those wanting to be a dispensary owner is large.

“I was talking to a dispensary owner who told me that for one space in Auburn Hills (outside Detroit), there will be over 100 applicants,” she said.

Norfolk, Virginia

Virginia is a little bit of an outlier.

“This was all done by the legislature, the lawmakers themselves,” said Brendan Ponton, a reporter in Norfolk. “As we've seen in other states, there are (typically) referendum votes on this.”

So, the shifting political power has led to a back and forth in policy.

Democrats had a legislative majority in 2021.

"They were able to pass a bill that legalized simple possession of marijuana up to an ounce," Ponton said. "But it did not legalize recreational sales, they put that off to the future."

Then Republicans won control on the House of Delegates and the governor’s mansion.

"So you saw in 2022, kind of a stalemate in the Virginia general assembly where nothing really happened,” he said.

Overall, Ponton notes a confusing set of rules in Virginia.

“So, it’s technically legal to use marijuana, but it’s illegal to buy it,” he said. “You can actually grow up to four plants at your house. But you can't purchase the seeds to be able to plant the cannabis. So you can be gifted the seeds, but you can't buy it. So again, there's kind of a ambiguity on what you're allowed to do.”

San Diego, California

In San Diego, reporter Jared Aarons has covered the topic since California voters approved legalization in 2016.

He points out the time between voter approval and actual sales was lengthy and deliberate, even though medical marijuana had been set up in California for years.

"So it was a very long rollout, taking those two years for all the cities to go through all their due diligence to come up with the way that recreational marijuana was going to work in California,” he said.

That two-year rollout is much longer than Missouri’s. Voters approved Amendment 3 in November, and sales could start February.

Keep in mind Missouri leaders have been able to watch other states’ processes since.

Back in California, Aarons did a story of how much marijuana taxes the state and local governments brought in.

“Since 2018 (until) June of this past summer, the state of California had made $3.7 billion in taxes,” he said.

In Aaron’s story from last June, it also detailed local city taxes in the area.

“In San Diego, there are 24 licensed recreational marijuana dispensaries. In the first three months of 2022, they contributed $5,416,067 through an 8% city cannabis tax.

Chula Vista has five legal dispensaries. Their 7% tax contributed $671,299 to the city budget from January through March of this year.”

As part of KSHB 41 News' commitment to providing context and depth in our reporting, we've excited to share our latest project, which we're calling 360. This project takes stories and topics that our communities are talking about and explores different perspectives on the issue. You can be a part of the process by e-mailing your ideas and thoughts to us at