Notes de l'Ifri Potomac Papers

The legalization of cannabis in the United States, the examples of Colorado and Washington State Potomac Papers, No. 33, February 2018

The use of recreational cannabis became legal in the States of Colorado and Washington in January and July 2014 respectively. The regulations, based on the examples of the tobacco and alcohol markets, intend to tackle the black market and to protect minors more efficiently. How do these two pioneering experiments inform the ongoing debate in France?


The State of Washington settled for a stricter regulation system. Indeed, while consumption rates have decreased for minors in the two States, they have strongly increased in Colorado’s adult population. However, the fact that teenagers tend to have a diminished perception of the dangers of cannabis should be carefully monitored, especially when they are exposed to a wide offer of cannabis-based products (marijuana, oils, cookies, …).

The economic benefits in terms of turnover, States revenues and job creation turn out to be higher than expected. Time will tell if this is a lasting phenomenon. However, the surge of marketing on the legal market, even though prohibited, indicates dynamism. The development of the pot industry could in time conflict with public health requirements.

The black market for cannabis remains in the hands of criminal organizations (Mexican drug cartels, gangs). It essentially targets the poorest populations, i.e. racial minorities, who remain on the sidelines of the more expensive legal market. As the prices of legal and black-market cannabis converge, the mafias’ interest may decline. They appear to have anticipated this evolution, since a shift towards the heroin and opiate markets has already been identified.

This may be the reason why in January 2018 President Donald Trump revoked the “laissez-faire” memos adopted under President Obama – the use of drugs remains indeed prohibited at the Federal level. The issue of marijuana legalization therefore constitutes a new area of States’ rights dispute.


This content is published in French: "La légalisation du cannabis aux Etats-Unis. Les exemples du Colorado et de l'Etat de Washington"


Cannabis Legalization Colorado United States Washington