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Report: What Has Been the Impact of Legalization in Colorado?

10/6/2021 News & Business

The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice’s Office of Research and Statistics has published “Impact on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado.” Legalization happened in December 2012, but legal marijuana sales only stated in 2014. Then it took about a year for localities around the state to gear up and help businesses become licensed.

A lot has happened in a relatively short amount of time, and it’s good to look at the results in black and white. Marijuana had a powerful stigma before legalization, which prevented deep research into the impact of marijuana use.

There is one big caveat – a lot of the data was self-reported. Before legalization, people were less likely to report marijuana use, which could account for some of the increases revealed in the report.

Source for data

The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice pulled the data from many sources. For example, crime data came from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, court data came from the courts, information on youth usage was from the Department of Public Health and the Environment, while information on treatment was provided by the Office of Behavioral Health. Researchers worked to identify the best sources for data.


Impact on Law Enforcement

Law enforcement in localities across the state obviously were extremely interested in learning about what has been the impact of legalization in Colorado. It was expected that marijuana arrests would drop after legalization, and that has been borne out by the data. Marijuana arrests decreased by 68% between 2012 and 2019.


Impact on Public Safety

The report looks at traffic fatalities and the impact of polydrug issues. Polydrug issues involve drivers impaired with marijuana as well as alcohol or other drugs. The Colorado State Patrol reported on state troopers’ perceptions of impairment in instances of automobile accidents. Before legalization, the number of drivers impaired was about 12%, with 6% impaired by marijuana alone and 6% by marijuana and other substances. However, there has been a significant increase – it’s now closer to 22%.

There is a concern that the risk of crashes increased with polydrug use. The report pairs court findings with toxicology reports, including blood alcohol content.

The Colorado State Patrol website.


Overall, the treatment admission rate for people reporting marijuana as the primary substance has decreased. For example, treatment admission rates dropped 18% between 2012 and 2019.

The report breaks these statistics down by age and gender. Admissions decreased for those in the 18-20 age group. Patients over 21 showed a slight increase in treatment rates, but then rates declined. Treatment admission rates for males decreased 20%, but for females, it increased 11%.

Impact on Youth

The report reveals one fact clearly – marijuana use among youth has not risen and maybe has even gone down a little.  The data was drawn, in part, from the Healthy Kids Colorado survey, which was done every two years. In 2013, over 19% of those who responded said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days. In 2015 that number rose to a little over 21% but fell to 19.4% in 2017. Experts say that the sample size of the study was not very large.

There has been a drop in the arrest rate among youth. Meanwhile, there’s been an increase in the use of concentrates. Dabbing – using the more potent cannabis in concentrates – holds potential for abuse among young people. It will be essential to keep an eye on this statistic in the future.

This data is encouraging though, since one of the significant concerns about legalization was the potential for abuse among young people. The governor of Colorado has said that the state is working hard to educate parents and kids about the health and legal risks of underage marijuana use.

Impact on Seniors

Marijuana use among seniors has gone up – from 3% in 2014 to over 5%. Part of this just has to do with the aging of Baby Boomers – as more of them turn 65 and enter the senior age group, the more influence their habits have statistically. Many Baby Boomers began using marijuana recreationally when they were younger but now use weed for medical reasons.

Other Factors

The report reveals that as of last year over 2,700 marijuana businesses were registered in the state. Total revenue gathered through taxes, licenses and fees increased incredibly – from $67 million in 2014 to $387 million in 2020. Taxes transferred to the school capital construction fund and public-school fund increased 264%, from $33 million in 2015 to $120 million last year.

What looked like potential negative impacts of marijuana use turned out not to be consequential. For example, there were initial increases in ER visits and hospitalizations resulting from marijuana use. Those numbers flattened out, and statistics on calls to poison control hotlines were similar.

Looking Ahead, Helping Other States and Countries

It’s not only Colorado asking, “What has been the impact of legalization in Colorado?” Other states and even countries considering legalization are looking at Colorado’s report to understand what they might expect before and after legalization. Colorado has done an excellent job of investing resources to track statistics over some time. Working to collect good data and report it consistently will help citizens and leaders make better decisions.

The people of Colorado now have more options. Colorado legislators have better information to formulate new ideas to protect and empower citizens.

Stay tuned for updates on Colorado weed news and state policies!



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