Here Are 5 Key Facts About How Legal Weed Is Transforming Colorado

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It’s been five years since the era of legal marijuana sales began in Colorado, and that’s been enough time to begin to be able see what sorts of impact the…

It’s been five years since the era of legal marijuana sales began in Colorado, and that’s been enough time to begin to be able see what sorts of impact the freeing of the weed has had on the Rocky Mountain State. From the economy and the fiscal health of the state government to law enforcement and public safety, legalizing marijuana has consequences.

Thanks to marijuana sales reports and tax revenue reports from the state Department of Revenue, as well as a legislatively mandated biennial report from the Division of Criminal Justice, we can see what some of those consequences are.

  1. They sure buy a lot of weed in Colorado, and the state’s coffers are filling up with marijuana tax revenues. Total marijuana sales in the state were more than $683 million in 2014—the year legal sales began—and have since more than doubled to more than $1.4 billion last year. Since legalization, the amount of legal weed sold in the state has now topped $6 billion. That’s created nearly 20,000 jobs, and it has also generated more than $900 million for the state government in marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees. Tax revenues have increased every year since legalization, and those dollars help fund public school projects, as well as human services, public affairs, agriculture, labor and employment, judicial affairs, health care policy, transportation and regulatory affairs. Pot revenues still only account for 1 percent of state revenues, but every $900 million helps.
  2. Marijuana arrests are way down, but black people are still getting busted disproportionately. Even though pot is legalized, there are still ways to get arrested on a marijuana charge, such as possessing more than an ounce or selling or growing unlicensed weed. Still, arrests have declined dramatically, dropping by 56 percent during the legalization era. Both possession and sales offenses declined, but arrests for unlawful production were up markedly, reflecting the state’s continuing fight to eliminate the black market. The age group most likely to get busted was 18-20-year-olds, who can only legally use or possess marijuana if they have a medical card. They are getting busted at a rate 30 times that of adults. Arrests are way down among all ethnic/racial groups, but black people are still getting arrested for pot at a rate nearly twice that of whites.
  3. Legalization has not led to more traffic fatalities. While the number of car drivers in fatal wrecks who had marijuana in their systems has increased dramatically, the report notes that “detection of cannabinoid in blood is not an indicator of impairment but only indicates presence in the system.” Marijuana DUIs were up 3 percent, but fatal traffic accidents involving marijuana-impaired drivers actually decreased by 5 percent.
  4. Use rates are up slightly among adults, but not among teens. The number of adults who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days has increased by 2 percent, with nearly one-fifth of men reporting past month use. That’s almost double the number of women reporting past month use. These are high rates of use compared to the nation as a whole, but the state has always had relatively high use rates, even dating back before legalization. (There is a chicken-and-egg question here: Do Coloradans like to smoke pot because weed is legal, or is weed legal because Coloradans like to smoke pot?) But what about the kids? Well, the kids are alright. Marijuana use rates among middle and high school students have been unchanged since legalization, and so have graduation rates.
  5. Emergency room visits linked to marijuana increased. Some 575 people presented to hospitals with marijuana-related problems back in 2000, but that number jumped to more than 3,500 by 2016. Emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers were both up. It’s important to note, however, that the vast majority of marijuana-related ER visits are related to panic or anxiety reactions and end with the patient eventually calming down and going home. Marijuana ER visits are not life-threatening events. The rise is also likely a function of new, naive users, especially of edibles, biting off more than they can chew.
  • Lili-Ann Berg

    An extremely one-sided report, completely ignoring the harmful effects this drug can have on young people. It’s been proven to be psychologically addictive and can induce symptoms similar to schizophrenia and also lead to abuse of other drugs like heroin and prescriptions opiates. There are many scientific papers available on the internet about the potential side-effects of marijuana if people care to look it up.
    I write this as a mother of a daughter who started with pot and was subsequently introduced to stronger drugs that steadily destroyed her life. She committed suicide 10 months ago after losing her fight to beat her addiction. Not that any of this will matter in a world where money and escapism matter more than the health and wellbeing of growing children.

  • Iraan Ozono

    A red herring argument that employs a bunch of logical errors.
    Sorry, but did your daughter smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol? More addictive and wide open gateways. What are the actual effects of cannabis vs. other substances? Complex, subtle, and corrective of many mental and emotional problems, vs. crude neurotransmitter sledgehammers. What are the “withdrawal” symptoms? None or mild vs. severe, possibly life threatening. Should the rights of adults to a clearly medicinal herb that can not rationally be physiologically compared with any of the feared straight one-molecule drugs be interefered with, because of the rare problems experienced by people who are not legally supposed to have access anyhow?

  • mwildfire

    I think pot can be psychologically addictive in SOME people; the main harm I see is a tendency to lead to apathy, laziness, withdrawal. In some people. The people I know who smoke daily are some of those with the highest functioning, sharp memory, and I don’t hesitate to ride in a car driven by one of them after toking. But I would not drive after smoking myself. I don’t think alcohol should be illegal, and banning it for people under 21 is questionable–but it does inarguably far more harm than pot. I wish my state would legalize it. But stupidity is a requirement for WV legislators–they won’t legalize it until every surrounding state has done so, thus obviating any chance for the state to make money off something that isn’t a fossil fuel.

  • kevinzeese

    I’m very sorry to learn of the loss of your daughter. That must have been a horrible experience and a terrible loss.

    If anything marijuana seems to prevent people moving on to more dangerous drugs. The vast majority of marijuana users do not become cocaine or heroin addicts, only a tiny percentage of marijuana users become addicts to more dangerous drugs. They seem satisfied with marijuana as their substance of choice and do not need other drugs. That is the most common experience of those who have used marijuana. And, marijuana is rarely the first drug people use — tobacco, caffeine and alcohol — are the more common first drugs. Again, their use does not mean someone is going to become an addict.

    The evidence on schizophrenia being caused by marijuana is also lacking. People with schizophrenia sometimes use marijuana but they are more likely self-treating symptoms of schizophrenia. Coincidence is not causation. Schizophrenia is rare in relation to marijuana use so even coincidence is not strong.

    We do know the adverse impacts of arrest and incarceration. Criminalization does not do people who use marijuana any good. All we get with making marijuana illegal are more problems. In addition to problems with marijuana abuse we get problems in the judicial system and with racism. Corruption of police, prosecutors and courts, racist application of the laws, and marijuana laws used to harass people are some of the common problems along with mass arrests. Indeed, more people are arrested for marijuana possession than for rape, robbery and murder combined. And, a criminal record does no good for employment, education or future success. The marijuana laws are counterproductive and do more harm than good — they are more dangerous to people than the use of marijuana. Entire communities that are poor and usually black or brown have been devastated by mass incarceration. We do know that the marijuana laws contribute to mass arrests and incarceration, of that there is no doubt.

    Yes, there will be some people who abuse marijuana but are they helped by being made criminals? The experience in states that have legalized, as well is in countries like Holland and Portugal is that legal access to marijuana does not increase use. There are many things that can be done to prevent marijuana abuse that are more effective and do not have the negative impacts of criminal law.

    Again, I am very sorry about the death of your daughter. I am sure that has had a tremendous impact on your life. Best wishes. KZ