The Colorado Department of Public Safety released early findings on the effects cannabis legalization has had on law enforcement, commerce, health and juveniles.
The study, mandated as part of the 2014 initiative decriminalizing recreational marijuana use in the state, is bracketed by a series of caveats. It's not comprehensive; many of its statistics are self-reported. It's not complete; while the drug was decriminalized in 2014, commercialization only began in 2015 and some information for that year is not yet available. Many results may also be clouded by the "decreasing social stigma" around marijuana use, meaning that rather than interpreting statistical shifts as dramatic changes related to decriminalization, some users may just be more at ease discussing their habits than they once were.
But some things do stick out, most of them trends predicted by those who think legalizing recreational cannabis is just common sense. Between 2012 and 2014, the total number of marijuana-related arrests in the state was almost halved, decreasing by 46 percent. Why are people still being arrested, you ask? Because possession of more than an ounce of the stuff is still illegal, according to the helpful website coloradopotguide.com, which also points out that public consumption is not legal, thank you very much.
"Before you start blazing those blunts while walking down the street, remember you can still get a ticket for doing so, similar to open container laws for drinking in public," the website warns.
There is no data in the study for arrests about walking while high, but there's plenty of evidence that toking while black is still penalized at ridiculously high rates. To quote directly from the study:
"The number of marijuana arrests decreased by 51 percent for whites, 33 percent for Hispanics and 25 percent for African-Americans. The marijuana arrest rate for African-Americans (348 per 100,000) was almost triple that of whites (123 per 100,000) in 2014."
Juvenile arrests for marijuana use and possession rose by 5 percent from 2012 to 2014, a jump that was almost entirely comprised of Hispanic and African-American youngsters. While white juvenile arrests decreased by 8 percent in 2014, those of Hispanic juveniles rose by 29 percent and African-American juvenile arrests increased a whopping 58 percent.
Some predicted trends did not emerge. DUI arrests involving marijuana, for example, actually decreased by 1 percent. Violent crime dropped 6 percent, and emergency rooms visits rose only a tiny bit.
However, total hospitalizations with "possible marijuana exposures, diagnoses, or billing codes" per 100,000 people tripled after commercialization, indicating that quite a few people might be using incorrect dosages or accidentally consuming edibles. The total number of adults 26 and over who self-reported using marijuana within 30 days of the survey more than doubled between 2006 and 2014. And of the 14 percent who used marijuana, a third reported smoking it daily.
While problems with addiction, racism and quality control have remained issues pre and post-legalization, the vision of the Centennial State as a Sodom and Gomorrah seem not to have materialized, numbers-wise. This reporter's friend, a young mother who wished not to be named, said that moving there with her two young sons was a wise choice, and they're exposed to fewer casual clouds of the stuff there than they were in the Arcata Co-Op's parking lot, though that's probably a pretty low bar.
There's also at least one number that should make everyone happy: Excise tax revenue dedicated to school capital in 2015 came in at more than $35 million.