Recreational marijuana policy is great for studying how effective policy adoption and implementation works, mainly due to its unique nature. Colorado cities, municipalities, and counties can currently choose how to adopt marijuana legalization policies, and whether or not they want to at all. By using this state as a case study, one researcher has found that public opinion, tax revenues, and existing medical marijuana policies have the biggest impact on local governments’ decisions to allow the sale of recreational marijuana. The study was published in State and Local Government Review, a SAGE journal.

For the study, Dr. Tracy L. Johns, research director at the Florida Survey Research Center (FSRC) at the University of Florida, examined surveys completed by 110 local government officials throughout Colorado and analyzed their answers in order to create a profile on the reasons officials made certain decisions regarding recreational marijuana. She found public opinion was the reason behind 95.5 percent of officials’ decisions, while 50 percent of officials also cited culture, values, and community beliefs.

Tax revenues were also an influencing factor. Fifty percent said they were influenced by the tax revenues marijuana sales would generate, while 27.3 percent were influenced by the tax revenues generated from applications for recreational marijuana establishments. Just over 18 percent were also influenced by the tax revenues culled from related businesses.

About 50 percent of the officials had issued their own additional local taxes on recreational marijuana, and most of the rest said they had plans to do so in the future. Thirty-three percent of the officials who permitted medical marijuana also permitted recreational marijuana.

Many of those who participated in the surveys reported that elections to allow marijuana businesses in their communities were often quite close. In communities where the percentage of citizens not in favor was substantial, officials had to adjust when it came to council decisions and establishing regulations. The officials noted, though, that the financial benefits of recreational marijuana businesses often changed the opinions of citizens who were originally opposed to the idea.

Panelists identified future policy issues as including regulation of marijuana-infused foods, which are often difficult to distinguish from non-infused foods. Concerns over short-term housing rentals, such as Airbnb, have also surfaced, since they lack the same regulations as traditional hotels.

Johns wrote in the article that all of the officials “agreed that recreational marijuana is a ‘policy experiment’ that, by its nature, carries a learning curve that necessitates continual adaptation.”

Source: Johns T. Managing a Policy Experiment: Adopting and Implementing Recreational Marijuana Policies in Colorado. State and Local Government Review. 2015.