The social impact of legal cannabis

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The social impact of legal cannabis


RBC | The first-ever baseline report assessing the impact of adult use marijuana regulations in Colorado was released in October 2018. Lawmakers in 2013 passed legislation authorizing regulators to conduct the five-year review, which seeks to better identify ways in which legalization has impacted public health and safety. “This report is compiled by professional researchers analyzing data from dozens of different resources. 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,” said Stan Hilkey, Executive Director of the Department of Public Safety. The 266 page report presents a mix of data that can be categorized as both encouraging and frustrating.

– How has cannabis impacted the crime rate in Colorado?

The authors of this review reported that the total number of marijuana arrests fell 52 percent between the years 2012 and 2017.  In Denver, marijuana arrests fell 81 percent over this same period of time.  The percentage of Colorado adults reporting marijuana use increased from 13.6 percent in 2014 to 15.5 percent in 2017. Fifteen percent of DUI arrests in 2017 involved cannabis versus 12 percent in 2014.  However, authors cautioned that this uptick may be partially due to “an increase in the number of law enforcement officers who are trained in recognizing drug use,” rather than as a result of any changes in driving behavior.  According to CDOT, the number of fatalities in which a driver tested positive for Delta-9 THC at or above the 5.0 ng/mL level declined from 52 (13 percent of all fatalities) in 2016 to 35 in 2017 (8 percent of all fatalities).
Locally, interim Rangely Police Chief Ti Hamblin reports that DUIs have increased in the Rangely area for cannabinoid-only or cannabinoid-in-combination positive drivers since legalization. Meeker Police Chief Phil Stubblefield reports slight increases in DUIs. Stubblefield says that “legalization has made it more difficult to search for illegal narcotics such as methamphetamine that are commonly transported with cannabis.”
Statewide, the number of fatalities with cannabinoid-only or cannabinoid-in-combination positive drivers increased 153 percent, from 55 in 2013 to 139 in 2017.  About 10 percent of people in treatment for a DUI self-reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse, compared to 86 percent who report alcohol as their primary drug of abuse.  The 9th Judicial District reported marijuana related charges went from 484 in 2008 to 175 in 2017, the biggest factor being adult possession charges which dropped from 261 in 2008 to 9 in 2017.  Minor possession charges, however, rose districtwide from zero cases in 2008 to 295 in 2017.
The report also includes some jarring statistics about illegal and black market cannabis activity. Criminal cultivations on public land in Colorado and the amount of illegal marijuana seized from such operations increased despite hopes of lawmakers and advocates of legalization. More than 10,350 pounds of illegal cannabis were seized by Colorado law enforcement in 2017; nearly double the 5,145 pounds seized in 2016.  The diversion to other states has posed problems for law enforcement as well. The Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC), located in the Department of Public Safety, compiled data from the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), and manages a database in which law enforcement agencies can voluntarily report drug seizures. The number of seizures for Colorado-sourced marijuana reported to EPIC increased from 286 in 2012 to 608 in 2017.

– How has cannabis impacted the youth in Colorado?

The impact that cannabis would have on the youth of our state was a huge factor for groups on both sides of the legalization debate. Data on youth marijuana use was available from two sources. The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) surveyed 47,146 high school and 6,704 middle school students in 2017 and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) had about 512 respondents in 2015/2016. The HKCS results indicate no significant change in past 30-day use of marijuana between 2013 (19.7 percent) and 2017 (19.4 percent).  Also in 2017 the use rates were not different from the national 30-day use rates reported by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  19.4 percent of Colorado high school students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days compared to 19.8 percent of high school students nationally.  The 2017 HKCS found that marijuana use increases by grade level, with 11.0 percent of 9th graders, 17.7 percent of 10th graders, 23.7 percent of 11th graders, and 25.7 percent of 12th graders reporting use in the past 30 days. The 2015/2016 report from NSDUH had a much smaller number of respondents compared to HKCS.  Their report indicated an increase in youth use from 2006/2007 at 9.1 percent and 2013/2014 to 12.6 percent.  However the last two years showed decreased use with 9.1 percent reporting use in 2015/2016.  The NSDUH showed that youth use of marijuana in Colorado (9.1 percent) was above the national average of 6.8 percent.  In terms of juvenile marijuana arrests the numbers are encouraging.  The rate per 100,000 decreased from 583 in 2012 to 453 in 2017, a 22 percent decrease.
Rangely Police Department reports that they have had a dozen minor-in-possession cases each year and that number has not been affected by the legalization of cannabis. Meeker Police Department reports an increase in school referrals related to marijuana and calls of minors taking marijuana that belonged to their parent or guardians.
Statewide the number of white juvenile arrests decreased from 2,146 in 2012 to 1,703 in 2017 (-21 percent). The number of Hispanic juvenile arrests decreased from 767 in 2012 to 733 in 2017 (-4 percent).  The number of black juvenile arrests decreased from 202 in 2012 to 172 in 2017 (-15 percent). In spite of the juvenile arrests decreasing, school discipline data for 2017-2018 indicated that marijuana accounted for 22 percent of all expulsions and 24 percent of all law enforcement referrals in Colorado public schools.
Graduation rates are up and drop-out rates are down since 2012. The graduation rate rose steadily from a 10-year low point of 72 percent in the 2009-2010 school year to 79 percent in the 2016-2017 school year. Over that same time period, the drop-out rate decreased from 3.1 percent to 2.3 percent.  It was reported that marijuana related arrests at colleges and universities increased by 56 percent.

– How has cannabis impacted health care in Colorado?

After the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) analyzed data from the Colorado Hospital Administration (CHA) they determined the impact on the medical community was enormous.  Increased availability led to increased health care utilization related to marijuana exposure.  According to the National Library of Medicine, exacerbation of chronic health conditions was expected. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is associated with psychosis, anxiety, and depression symptoms, making exacerbation of underlying psychiatric disorders inevitable. However, it is difficult to fully quantify the scope of this increased health care utilization because marijuana use is often coincident with other behaviors that contribute to health care visits. For example, the combination of marijuana plus ethanol increases the risk of motor vehicle collisions more than either substance alone. Serum THC concentrations are not readily available, so assessing causality is difficult.  However, there has been an increase in visits for pure marijuana intoxication. These were previously a rare occurrence, but even this increase is difficult to quantify. Patients may present to emergency departments (EDs) with anxiety, panic attacks, public intoxication, vomiting or other nonspecific symptoms precipitated by marijuana use. Hospitalization rates (per 100,000 hospitalizations) with possible marijuana exposures, diagnosis or billing codes increased from 803 before commercialization (2001-2009) to 2,696 per 100,000 after commercialization (January 2014-September 2015). The period from October 2015-December 2015 indicated another increase, but due to changes in coding systems, variable structures, and policies at CHA, the numbers for 2016 are considered preliminary by CDPHE.  The period of retail commercialization showed an increase in emergency department visits from 739 per 100,000 ED visits (2010-2013) to 913 per 100,000 ED visits (January 2014-September 2015).  Julie Drake, the Director for the Rio Blanco County Public Health reported that they do not keep records locally of any marijuana related overdoses, hospitalizations, etc. The number of calls to poison control mentioning human marijuana exposure increased over the past 10 years. There were 45 calls in 2006 and 222 in 2017.  Between 2014 and 2017 the frequency of calls reporting human marijuana exposure stabilized.
The financial data, evaluated against this social impact report released by the Colorado’s Department of Criminal Justice, is insightful for Colorado and states considering legalization.  You can find the full report, Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, below or at the Colorado Department of Public Safety Division of Criminal Justice Office of Research and Statistics website at


By Roxie Fromang | Special to the Herald Times

1 Comment

  1. Wow…Again. Why the debate. Compare ALL OF THAT to alcohol and its a fraction. Yet, alcohol is ACCEPTED, PROMOTED, ENCOURAGED…….but cannabis is in a issue. Follow the dollars. Who made the most money off of this report?

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