Recreational marijuana, coming to a city near you?

Recreational marijuana sales were recently legalized in the state of Colorado, and Jan. 1 marked the grand opening for several local marijuana businesses. Colorado voters approved the legislation in 2012, causing Colorado to follow Washington State in legalizing recreational marijuana sales for those 21-and-older.

Many feel that legalization of recreational marijuana will have several positive outcomes, among them being patients having easier access to the drug for medical use. Proponents also argue that marijuana legalization has resulted in fewer marijuana-related crimes, citing the decrease in marijuana-related arrests and charges. According to data provided by the Colorado Judicial Branch, the number of marijuana related offenses decreased by 77 percent between 2012 and 2013. Proponents cite that this drop in offenses not only prevents the state from spending valuable revenue, but it also has cultural implications, such as decreasing the criminalization of black males in particular.

It is worth noting, however, that the decrease in marijuana-related crimes is in part due to state prosecutors having pursued fewer marijuana-related cases in general. Prosecutions for those 21-and- under (for which marijuana is still very much illegal) has decreased as well. Colorado Attorney General John Suther says that cases may have decreased in number due to law enforcement not wanting to dissect the complexities of the state’s new marijuana laws–a notion revealing that crime has indeed not decreased.

Despite legislation indeed making it easier for patients to acquire marijuana, legitimate concerns for public safety are emerging. The threat of drug cartels also flies in the face of proponents’ claims that new marijuana legislation will result in crime decrease. The drug lords who once dominated the regional marijuana trade will now be facing competition from once non-existent brick and mortar establishments. Recreational users may very well take the “safe” route by purchasing their marijuana from these stores rather than the dealer on the street. The result? Less money will be in the pockets of cartels. Violent cartels could likely become black market wholesalers, and the threat of storefronts being robbed would increase (at least 7 burglaries have already been documented).

For those facing similar legislation in their states, proactive awareness is key. Exercise your power to vote and stay informed of issues on the ballots. Being a part of the democratic process and being aware of the stance held by those running for public office are keys to creating change. Forming community by talking with those who share your views is essential to creating unity. Recreational marijuana legislation is likely to result in an already present drug culture being fueled. For this reason, opening the lines of dialogue with your children about marijuana use is also vital. Emphasize the fact that legality is not a synonym for morality. Slavery was, after all, legal–but even the toughest of marijuana proponents would not argue it to be moral.