Colorado marijuana report shows more revenue, fewer arrests since legalization
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Since residents cast their vote for retail marijuana in 2012, Colorado leaders are attempting to measure how the state’s financials, law enforcement and health have been affected. As one of the provisions of Amendment 64, a new study was released by the Colorado Department of Public Safety in an effort to better grasp these trends.
While the 146-page document is chock-full of information, the study is careful to warn “the lack of pre-commercialization data, the decreasing social stigma and challenges to law enforcement combine to make it difficult to translate these early findings into definitive statements of outcomes.”
As of December 2015, Summit County has 22 total licenses through the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED), including three medical centers, four retail stores, four cultivations and 11 product manufacturers.
Statewide, there were a total of 2,538 MED-licensed businesses in Colorado, bringing in more than $135 million in tax revenues, licenses and fees in 2015. Of this, more than $35 million was dedicated to capital construction assistance for schools.
Despite the legalization of recreational marijuana, as of November 2015, there were 109,922 individuals registered as medical marijuana cardholders statewide. In Summit County, this translated to 1,003 cardholders — less than one percent of total patients.
Unsurprisingly, marijuana-related arrests have decreased sharply in Summit County over the past few years, mirroring statewide trends.
“We dealt with a lot, obviously, prior to legalization,” Summit County Sheriff John Minor said. “Sometimes differentiating between medicinal marijuana and contraband marijuana was extremely difficult.”
The total number of marijuana-related arrests in Summit dropped from 63 in 2012, to just five in 2013 and 2014. Statewide, the number of marijuana-related arrests during the three-year timeframe decreased 46 percent, from 12,894 to 7,004.
According to the report, marijuana possession arrests saw the largest decrease, slashed nearly in half. Meanwhile, sales arrests decreased 24 percent, while arrests for production saw little change.
“It’s mainly consuming it in the wrong place, as in public,” Minor said. “Defining ‘public’ is the great challenge because it’s not as simple as it sounds.”
He added his office occasionally responds to complaints about odor issues, as well as a few regarding the extraction of hash oil at home, which was made a felony in Colorado last July following several butane explosions statewide. In 2013, the sheriff’s office intercepted several pounds of cannabis being shipped out through the mail.
Silverthorne acting police chief Misty Higby concurred that, while her agency has made fewer marijuana-related arrests since Amendment 64 was passed, the situation is not quite as rosy as it might seem.
“It doesn’t mean there haven’t been other problems,” she said, adding the department has occasionally seen issues with individuals purchasing cannabis and then giving it to others illegally. She added the department has also addressed minors in possession of marijuana without medical documentation.
“I’m not sure if that has changed since legalization,” she said.
THE YOUNGER CROWD
Statewide, just one group saw an increase: the rate of marijuana-related juvenile arrests. According to the study, in 2014, juveniles accounted for almost half (49 percent) of all marijuana arrests, compared to 25 percent in 2012.
Drug-test data from the Division of Probation Services revealed the percentage of 10-14 year olds testing positive for THC one or two times increased from 19 percent in 2012 to 23 percent in 2014. For 15-17 year olds, the number who tested positive one or two times decreased slightly, from 26 percent in 2012 to 25 percent in 2014, but the number who tested positive three or more times increased from 23 to 25 percent. The total number of juvenile marijuana arrests also increased five percent statewide during this timeframe.
In Summit County, this trend seems to be reversed, decreasing from nine juvenile arrests in 2012 to one in 2014. Healthy Futures Coordinator Laurie Blackwell said they were awaiting more in-depth statistics from the past two years to be released in upcoming months.
“There’s Colorado data and there’s Summit County, and it’s not the same,” she added.
Adults, naturally, reported more prevalent marijuana usage as well. In 2014, 31 percent of adults ages 18 to 25 reported using cannabis in the last month, compared with 21 percent in 2006 (pre-commercialization). Use among adults ages 26 and older also jumped from five percent to 12 percent during this timeframe. Following this trend, calls to poison control regarding human marijuana exposure have also multiplied — jumping from 44 calls in 2006 to 227 calls in 2015.
“It’s a strange new world,” Minor said. “It’s created a challenge for us to catch up.”
All statistics are attributed to “Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings” (March, 2016)
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