Marijuana advocates have long touted the economic benefits of legalization. A new study helps their case.
For years, thousands of residents of Pueblo, Colorado, enjoyed solid, middle-class jobs at the Colorado Fuel & Iron steel mill. When the mill left in the early 1980s, however, many Puebloans without high school or college degrees struggled to find work — struggles that lasted for 30 years.
The Great Recession lingered far longer in Pueblo than elsewhere in Colorado. Unemployment rates stayed in the double digits in Pueblo through spring 2013, while the unemployment rate elsewhere in the state hovered just below 7 percent.
However, as the Colorado Springs Gazette reports, preliminary data show that Pueblo’s unemployment rate had dropped to 4.9 percent. And as a new study from the Colorado State University-Pueblo Institute of Cannabis Research shows, the marijuana industry has been a key factor.
The study, which is the first of its kind, finds that legal cannabis provides a net positive economic benefit to Pueblo County, even when additional costs associated with law enforcement and social services are taken into account.
The report indicates that the legal marijuana industry had an estimated economic impact of more than $58 million in 2016. The county also saw added related costs of roughly $23 million, leaving a positive net impact of more than $35 million. The report projects that figure to reach nearly $100 million by 2021.
According to Chris Markuson, Pueblo County’s director of economic development and geographic information systems, the recreational marijuana industry’s explosive growth “literally saved” Pueblo’s construction community during the latter part of the Great Recession, accounting for more than half of the county’s construction-related revenue over the past three years.
As the Gazette notes, taxes on legal cannabis have helped to fix up schools, parks, and roads, while generating $3.5 million in marijuana-related tax revenue and fees last year alone. On top of that, roughly $1,000 in scholarship money also will be available to each qualifying high school senior who graduates in Pueblo County and who attend either Pueblo Community College or Colorado State University-Pueblo.
Pueblo’s economy has long trailed that of Denver, Fort Collins, and the state’s numerous well-to-do mountain towns. Last November, after ballot measures were introduced put a halt to Pueblo’s growing cannabis industry, voters renewed their commitment to the industry. As a result, advocates say, the Steel City has become a sort of Napa Valley of Weed.
“The rest of us have been getting ignored,” longtime Pueblo diner owner and cannabis advocate Jim Parco told the Gazette. “So when they legalized cannabis in 2014 and started taxing it, it changed the game. Now we have a chance.”