In a 13-minute segment broadcast Sunday night, CBS’s “60 Minutes” explored Colorado’s budding medical marijuana industry, and heard from a former drug cop turned tax enforcer who insisted that the industry has helped Denver beat the recession.
That runs contrary to President Barack Obama’s logic: he said in 2010 that legalizing marijuana is not “a good strategy to grow our economy.”
But the economic impact on Denver? According to Matt Cook, a former narcotics officer who oversees enforcement at the Colorado Department of Revenue, “it’s huge.”
Cook helped write the state’s medical marijuana law, and works as a consultant for medical marijuana businesses in the state. Speaking to “60 Minutes,” he said that the industry accounts for “over a million square feet of lease space in the Denver area.”
“Look at all the electrical contractors, HVAC contractors,” he said. “The number of ancillary businesses — it’s huge. Tax revenues exceeded, I believe the last number I heard was an excess of $20 million.”
While the state’s taxes on marijuana actually took in about $5 million during 2011, it certainly could spike as high or higher than Cook said: a recent study by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy found that legalized marijuana could pull in about $24 million in new revenue from an excise tax on marijuana production alone.
The report adds that state sales taxes on pot could generate up to $8.7 million more, with local governments seeing an additional $14.5 million just in the first year. Savings on enforcement and incarceration during that same period would also top more than $12 million, the group said.
In spite of clearly positive effects, Cook’s assessment that pot beat the recession is a bit hopeful, and mostly anecdotal. Colorado’s unemployment rate fell to 8 percent in September, higher than the national average of 7.8. percent. In Denver, the rate fell to 7.4 percent in September, a marked improvement. In Boulder County, the jobless rate during that same period was a shocking 5.7 percent.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett told “60 Minutes” that getting a jury to convict on marijuana offenses has become nearly impossible. “What we deal with is what prosecutors call jury nullification, where juries say I know what the law is but I’m not going to follow it,” he said. “This community has made it very clear that criminal enforcement of marijuana is not something they want me to spend any time on.”
Colorado is one of three states voting this November on full legalization of marijuana for recreational use, and polls show it could be a close vote. A recent poll by The Denver Post found that 48 percent of likely voters support Amendment 64, which would regulate marijuana like alcohol, while just 43 percent oppose the measure.
This video is from CBS’s “60 Minutes,” broadcast Sunday, October 21, 2012.
Photo: Screenshot via CBS.com.