Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) has never been a big fan of marijuana legalization and recently claimed it is hurting Colorado’s ability to attract new jobs. According to the Denver Post, Hickenlooper said at a recent conference on public-private partnerships, “Let me tell you, if you’re trying to encourage businesses to move to your state, some of the larger businesses, think twice about legalizing marijuana.”
Unfortunately, it seems Hickenlooper is letting his personal feelings about marijuana blind him to the facts. There is basically nothing in the actual data to indicate that marijuana legalization has at all hurt Colorado’s economy. In fact, Colorado has been performing significantly better than most states since voters approved marijuana legalization in November 2012.
Back when Amendment 64 was approved, Colorado had an unemployment rate of 7.7 percent, which put it in 33rd place among all the states. By comparison, the most recent data from the Department of Labor shows Colorado has an unemployment rate of just 3.2 percent, which is the fifth best in the country. This dramatic improvement in the unemployment rate is especially impressive given how many people have moved to the state recently. Last year’s data from the Census Bureau found Colorado was the second fastest growing state in the country since it has been adding new residents at a dramatic pace.
Similarly, even though Colorado was hit fairly hard by the Great Recession, among all states (plus DC) Colorado ranks 9th highest in the rate of jobs added since the low point of the recession. It also had the 7th highest rate of jobs added compared to the last pre-recession peak.
I’m not going to claim these impressive improvements were actually caused by marijuana legalization, but looking at this data, it is hard to argue legalization has hurt Colorado’s economy as Hickenlooper implied. According to most metrics, Colorado’s job market has performed well above average since voters there legalized marijuana, so any net negative impact on the state from legalization is likely to be very small or non-existent.
The simple fact is most states would be lucky to experience the kind of employment gains Colorado has seen since November 2012. If anything Colorado’s example undermines any economic argument about against legalization.
This post was originally published on March 15, 2016, it was updated on March 15, 2017.