All politicians, activists, and citizens contemplating transformative reform to the status quo should look for pointers in Colorado's end to pot prohibition. When the worst headline you can find about the end to pot prohibition is that some dispensaries have run out of weed (overstated, but we'll get to that), you know that reformers have pulled off something pretty exceptional.
Lesson number one is to start small. Colorado is not just the first state to allow commercial sales of recreational pot (Washington state will open its own market later this year), it's relatively small and isolated, thus making it a perfect laboratory for this experiment. Other states can watch and learn and figure out the best way to adapt Colorado's (and Washington's) experience to their own situation. As the designers of Healthcare.gov could tell you, going all-in before various options have been tried and beta-tested is almost always a really bad idea.
That's part of my latest column at Time.com's Ideas page. Other lessons include using markets (the freer the better) and decentralizing decisionmaking to the individual level whenever possible. That includes giving individuals the right to opt out of reforms. Had Obamacare not revolved around the individual mandate (and forced Medicaid expansion until the Supreme Court struck that down), it might have done a better job of increasing coverage and keeping costs in check. As it is, some 30 million Americans won't gain coverage under the president's universal coverage reform.
Colorado's pot legalization regime is far from perfect, but it offers up serious lessons that are worth considering.