Legalized recreational marijuana sales began in Colorado on January 1, 2014 after voters passed Amendment 64 in the 2012 election. The amendment outlined a statewide drug policy and supporters believed its passage would allow officers to focus on violent crime prevention. Opponents believed it would lead to increased adolescent marijuana use and addiction.
Five years later, as more states have legalized cannabis and others begin to consider their own legalization proposals, how has legalization impacted Colorado?
Positive social change
Overall arrests for marijuana-related charges have decreased, especially among African-American citizens who were arrested for such offenses twice as often as white Coloradans. Court filings related to marijuana dropped 55 percent.
While adult use of marijuana within the past 30 days increased two percent, there was no change in the number of middle and high school students reporting marijuana use. In fact, high school graduation rates have increased in the past five years.
Traffic citations for driving under the influence (DUI) with marijuana-impaired drivers increased three percent, but the total number of DUI citations decreased over four percent.
Accidents caused by cannabinoid-only and cannabinoid-in-combination drivers lead to a 153 percent increase in fatalities from 2013 to 2017. Arrest data from 2016 indicated that 73 percent of blood tests returned a positive result for cannabinoids.
However, fatal accidents specifically involving a tetrahydrocannabinol-impaired (THC) drivers decreased five percent. One thing to keep in mind is that “cannabinoid” includes both THC and cannabidiol (CBD); THC is psychoactive while CBD is not.
The results are positive and negative, and they are a reminder that legalization does not mean Coloradans are free to use marijuana unregulated. Drivers can still be legally impaired and face legal consequences.