It’s been five years since Colorado dispensaries were first allowed to sell recreational marijuana. Since it was also the first state to do so, Colorado is not only a trailblazer but an important case study as other states follow. While much of the legalization debate seems to focus on tax revenue, in our travels we hear a lot of concern about the social aspects of legalization.
Colorado, as first-mover, knew these social concerns were important when they started down the path to legalization. The state even has a bill that mandates the Division of Criminal Justice in the Department of Public Safety to study the impacts of legalization. Here’s a breakdown of their findings (released in Q4 2018) with a link to the full study at the end:
#1 – Arrests: Overall marijuana arrests dropped by half from 12,709 in 2012 (when legislation passed) to 6,153 in 2017. Marijuana possessions – the most common reason for all marijuana arrests – also declined by half (down 54%) during that time period. There are still ways to get arrested for marijuana possession even though it is legal, such as “possession with intent to distribute, possession-consumption in vehicle, and possession under age of 21”. Moreover, adults can only possess one ounce of marijuana or less.
This is important because Democratic governors who want to legalize retail marijuana this year – including New York, New Jersey and Illinois – see it as a social justice issue as African Americans are disproportionately hurt by current laws. Even though the number of arrests fell by over half for both Whites (down 56%) and African Americans (down 51%) in Colorado, the marijuana arrest rate for the latter (233 per 100,000) was almost double the former (118 per 100,000) in 2017.
#2 – Traffic safety: Citations for marijuana impairment by the Colorado State Patrol remained roughly the same as a percentage of all DUI arrests at between 6% and 8% from 2014 to 2017. Total marijuana citations (such as marijuana and alcohol or marijuana and other drugs) rose slightly from 12% in 2014 to 15% in 2017. To put this in context, there were 719 total marijuana citations out of 4,849 in 2017.
Interestingly, total DUI citations dropped to 4,849 in 2017 from 5,705 in 2014, while alcohol only citations also fell from 84% of all DUIs in 2014 to 80% in 2017. While marijuana-only citations remained relatively steady, alcohol-only citations retreated.
Lastly, the latest data on the number of drivers in fatal crashes who tested above the legal limit of marijuana’s active ingredient THC shows that it fell to 35 (8% of all fatalities) in 2017 from 52 (13% of all fatalities) in 2016.
#3 – Adult usage rates: More adults are using marijuana since stores started selling it recreationally in 2014. The numbers: 15.5% of adults reported using marijuana in the past 30 days in 2017 compared to 13.6% in 2014, while 7.6% reported daily or near daily use versus 6.0% in 2014.
Men have a much higher past 30-day usage rate (19.8%) than women (11.2%). Those aged 18 to 25 have the highest past 30-day usage rate (29.2%) versus other generations, including 26‐34 year olds (26.4%), 35‐64 year olds (12.5%), and those 65 years and older (5.6%).
#4 – Youth impacts: According to their surveys of middle and high schoolers, there was no significant change in past 30-day use of the drug from 2013 (19.7%) to 2017 (19.4%). Additionally, the rate of past 30-day use among Colorado high school students (19.4%) was similar to the national average for high school students (19.8%). As for education rates, graduation rates have actually risen and dropout rates have fallen since recreational marijuana legalization was passed in 2012 and first sold in stores in 2014.
#5 – Hospitalizations and emergency room visits: Both increased in the two years after stores started selling recreational cannabis (2014-2015). Bear in mind, the report notes that “those reporting to poison control, emergency departments, or hospitals may feel more comfortable discussing their recent use or abuse of marijuana for purposes of treatment” due to the “decreased stigma and legal consequences”. The same goes for the reported increase in use of the drug by adults as well.
Bottom line: as we continue to highlight, a quarter of Americans already live in a state where adult-use of marijuana is legal. As mentioned, the governors of populous states, such as New Jersey, New York and Illinois want to pass retail sale/legal use of the drug through their state legislatures as soon as this year. It is only a matter of time before marijuana is legal nationally, so understanding its impact on society is important. Certain concerns, like increased usage rates among teens did not occur in a state where it has been legal and for sale the longest. While total marijuana related DUI citations increased, alcohol and total DUI citations fell. Of course, all this data will need further monitoring in Colorado and other states where marijuana is fully legal, but it at least helps keep the conversation about this disruptive trend constructive.