Colorado marijuana study finds positives for law enforcement, usage significantly up
Marijuana use appears to have grown substantially in Colorado since voters chose to legalize recreational use in 2013, but what kind of impacts has that legalization brought with it?
Late last month the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Office of Research and Statistics released a report entitled “Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado,” providing residents with data on issues such as crime, usage rates, impaired driving, effects on youth and more.
“This is exactly the kind of data collection we need to inform our regulatory and law enforcement framework,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We now have that ever-critical baseline from which we can spot trends so Colorado’s leaders understand where our efforts are succeeding and identify areas where we need to focus additional research, resources or even new policy.”
The data was collected by various local, state and national sources and is meant to provide a comprehensive analysis of the effects of marijuana legalization, and to serve as an unbiased resource for policy makers and the public alike. In addition to statewide figures, the report also sheds some light on marijuana usage here in Summit County.
While some figures show massive positives coming out of legalization such as decreased arrest rates and stable youth usage rates, other numbers surrounding issues such as DUIs and illegal cultivation continue to raise concerns.
According to the report, adult usage rates for marijuana rose from 13.6 percent of individuals who used within the last 30 days in 2014 to 15.5 percent in 2017, a significant increase. Of note, men tend to have higher usage rates (19.8 percent) compared to women (11.2 percent), and adults ages 18-25 reported the highest past 30-day usage of any age group (29.2 percent).
Despite the increase in use, public safety data suggest that legalization has made positive impacts from a law enforcement perspective. As is expected the number of marijuana arrests dropped 52 percent between 2012 and 2017, from more than 12,700 to just over 6,000. In that same time frame, possession arrests were more than cut in half and sales arrests decreased by 17 percent. Marijuana court filings also dropped 55 percent between 2012 and 2017.
Taking a look at Summit County more specifically, marijuana arrests dropped from 63 in 2012 to just six in 2017, all men. Of the arrests made in Summit last year five were for possession and one was for an unknown reason.
But there are also some troubling numbers as well. The number of total DUI citations issued by the Colorado State Patrol has actually dropped in recent years, though last year marijuana accounted for more than 15 percent of total DUIs, compared to just 12 percent in 2014. Additionally, the number of fatalities with cannabinoid positive drivers increased more than 150 percent since legalization, from 55 in 2013 to almost 140 in 2017.
There has also been a rise in illegal cultivation on public lands, with almost 81,000 plants seized in 2017, a 73 percent increase from the more than 46,600 seized in 2012. Diversion of Colorado-sourced marijuana to other states also continues to be a problem, as the number of seizures increased from 286 in 2012 to more than 600 last year.
One positive to come out of the report was the usage rates among Colorado’s youth communities. According to the report — based on data collection from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and National Survey on Drug Use and Health — youth marijuana 30-day use rates actually dropped between 2013 (19.7 percent) and 2017 (19.4 percent). The report also shows that the number of Colorado high school students who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days is actually smaller than the national average (19.8 percent).
Drug suspension and expulsion rates have also dropped since legalization, with about 550 suspensions per 100,000 students in 2010-11 and only 507 in the 2017-18 school year.
While officials warn that the report is meant to act as a baseline for future studies — in part because of a severe lack of historical data, along with an ever decreasing social stigma which could lead individuals to be more likely to truthfully report usage — the data is a healthy starting point for policy makers and the public alike in determining the next stages in monitoring, enforcing and developing new marijuana regulations.
“This report is compiled by professional researchers analyzing data from dozens of different resources,” said Stan Hilkey, executive director of the Department of Public Safety. “Hundreds of hours of research go into this publication, with a painstaking effort to present an unbiased and transparent report with credible data for all consumers. Integrity in the pursuit of being both comprehensive and honest about where data gaps exist is important to our professional research staff. I believe this report will be a helpful tool to inform policy makers, parents, school staff, law enforcement, the marijuana industry and other to better understand the effects of legal marijuana in our communities.”
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