Marijuana consumption and adverse health events related to the drug increased significantly in Colorado after the drug was legalized in 2014, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.
Youth arrests involving marijuana also increased, but new state laws removing zero-tolerance policies from schools appear to have decreased expulsions and suspensions.
“This report is a two-year snapshot of the impact of marijuana legalization on Colorado’s kids, families, and communities,” Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “While we still can’t draw any long-term conclusions, today Colorado continues to make history by establishing an objective, data-backed baseline against which all future assessments of marijuana legalization, both in Colorado and around the world, will be weighed.”
The report examined post-legalization effects on public health and safety using multiple data sets.
However, the report’s author cautioned that results should be interpreted with restraint because the report used data through 2014 only, and sources of data varied significantly.
“It is too early to draw any conclusions about the potential effects of marijuana legalization or commercialization on public safety, public health, or youth outcomes,” the author wrote.
Major findings include:
- Past 30-day marijuana consumption rates for adults ages 18 to 25 increased from 21 percent in 2006 to 31 percent in 2014.
- For adults 26 and older, it increased from five percent to 12 percent during the timeframe.
- Criminal Justice
- Total marijuana arrests decreased from 12,894 in 2012 to 7,004 in 2014.
- The total number of juvenile arrests involving marijuana grew from 3,234 in 2012 to 3,400 in 2014.
- The number of DUI cases identified by Colorado State Patrol involving marijuana increased from 12 percent of all DUIs in 2014 to 15 percent in 2015.
- Hospitalizations involving marijuana increased from 803 per 100,000 from 2001 – 2009 to 2,413 per 100,000 from 2014 – June 2015.
- Emergency department visits increased from 739 per 100,000 from 2010 – 2013 to 956 per 100,000 from 2014 – June 2015.
The most recent data on teen marijuana consumption is from the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. In the year before recreational marijuana was legalized, teens had reported a slight decline in past 30-day marijuana use. However, teen perceptions of health risks associated with marijuana were also decreasing. Results from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey are expected to be available in the summer of 2016.
Supporters for recreational marijuana legalization advocated for the large amount of revenue the state would earn through taxes and fees.
Indeed, revenue from taxes, licenses, and fees associated with marijuana increased 77 percent from $76 million in 2014 to $135 million in 2015. However, marijuana taxes account for only one percent of the state’s tax revenue.
Still, the marijuana excise tax revenue used to fund the public school capital construction assistance fund reached $35 million in 2015.
There were 109,922 medical marijuana card holders as of November 2015.
The majority of retail stores and medical marijuana centers were located in:
Additionally, the city of Denver accounted for 44 percent of all licensed marijuana business in the state.
Implications of the Findings
The state’s Department of Public Safety conducted the study in accordance with Colorado General Assembly Senate Bill 13‐283, which mandates that the department’s Division of Criminal Justice study the impacts of Amendment 64.
However, the information is difficult to interpret because a number of variables affect the results. Marijuana legalization could decrease stigma and legal consequences associated with marijuana use, changing Coloradans’ perceptions of using the drug.
Law enforcement officers expanded their knowledge on how to recognize marijuana use. Only 32 officers were trained to recognize drug use in 2006, but 288 were trained in 2015, according to the report. The additional trainings could increase law enforcement recognition of individuals driving under the influence of marijuana, leading to more arrests.
The state’s property crime rate and violent crime rate decreased slightly from 2009 to 2014. However, numerous law enforcement efforts or other factors could have affected the changes.
Overall, the report provides an early glimpse into the impact of marijuana legalization. However, advocates and opponents of legalization will have to continue to wait for more data before developing firm conclusions.