Report out on impacts of marijuana legalization in Colorado


STATEWIDE — The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Office of Research and Statistics on Friday released “Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado,” a report that compiles and analyzes data on marijuana-related topics including crime, impaired driving, hospitalizations and ER visits, usage rates, effects on youth, and more.

In 2013, the Colorado General Assembly passed SB 13-283 directing the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) within the Department of Public Safety to conduct a study of the impacts of Amendment 64, which legalized the retail sale and possession of recreational marijuana for adults over age 21.

“This is exactly the kind of data collection we need to inform our regulatory and law enforcement framework,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We now have that ever-critical baseline from which we can spot trends so Colorado’s leaders understand where our efforts are succeeding and identify areas where we need to focus additional research, resources or even new policy.”

The data in the report was collected and provided by various local, state and national sources, and thus some of the data has previously been released or reported on by other safety agencies. The “Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado” report is unique in that it seeks to present a comprehensive analysis of as many data points as possible in order to provide an accurate and unbiased resource to policy makers and the public.

“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.  “Integrity in the pursuit of being both comprehensive and honest about where data gaps exist is important to our professional research staff. I believe this report will be a helpful tool to inform policy makers, parents, school staff, law enforcement, the marijuana industry and others to better understand the effects of legal marijuana in our communities.”

The full study can be found online at



Data suggests that law enforcement and prosecutors are aggressively pursuing cases against black market activity. The quantity of cases filed for serious marijuana-related crimes has remained consistent with pre-legalization levels, however organized crime cases have generally increased since 2008.

Felony marijuana court case filings (conspiracy, manufacturing, distribution, and possession with intent to sell) declined from 2008 to 2014, but increased from 2015 through 2017.

The most recent increase in filings might be in part because legislation changed the legal indoor plant count, providing law enforcement agencies with greater clarity and tools to increase their enforcement of black market activity.

Felony filings in 2017 (907) were still below 2008 filings (1,431).

Filings in organized-crime cases followed a similar pattern, with a dip in 2012 and 2013 followed by a significant increase since 2014.

There were 31 organized crime case filings in 2012 and 119 in 2017.

Filings for juveniles under 18 remain at the same level as pre-legalization.

DUI & traffic fatalities

The impact of marijuana consumption on the safety of drivers is a major focus, as any fatality on our roadways is a concern. More data about the impairing effects of marijuana and more consistent testing of drivers for marijuana are needed to truly understand the scope of marijuana impairment and its relation to non-fatal crashes.

The number of trained Drug Recognition Experts increased from 129 in 2012 to 214 in 2018, a 66 percent increase. Thousands of additional officers have been trained in Advanced Roadside Impairment Detection.

Colorado State Patrol (CSP) DUI cases overall were down 15 percent from 2014 to 2017.

The percentage of CSP citations with marijuana-only impairment has stayed steady, at around 7 percent. The percentage of CSP citations with any marijuana nexus rose from 12 percent in 2012 to 17 percent in 2016, then dropped to 15 percent 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 percent of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for Delta-9 THC at the 5ng/mL level decreased from 11.6 percent in 2016 to 7.5 percent in 2017.

The number of fatalities where a driver tested positive for any cannabinoid (Delta 9 or any other metabolite) increased from 55 (11 percent of all fatalities) in 2013 to 139 (21 percent of all fatalities) in 2017.

Seizures on public lands

Seizures on public lands are an indicator of the size of the black market in Colorado. Data reported by the National Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) show that federal agencies have made significant seizures of marijuana on public lands and illegal indoor grows both prior to legalization and since 2012, with very large seizures in recent years.

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s cannabis eradication of outdoor and indoor grows did not show a trend from 2006 to 2017. For example, eradication of outdoor plants ranged from as many as 29,655 in 2009 to as few as 2,059 in 2017. 

Similar to trends seen with other law enforcement activity, seizures on public lands dipped significantly in 2013 and 2014 compared to 2009-2012. Seizures then rose continuously from 2015-2017.

In 2017 alone, more than 80,000 plants were seized on public lands.

Diversion out of state

Diversion out of state is another indicator of the size of the black market, and is a must-track data point as we aim to work with our federal and state partners to diminish illegal activity related to marijuana.

The number of seizures reported via the El Paso Intelligence Center increased from 2012 (286) to 2015 (768) but decreased in 2016 (673) and 2017 (608).

Marijuana seizures by the US Postal Inspection Service have increased steadily since 2010, from 15 parcels seized containing 57 pounds of marijuana in 2010 to 1,009 parcels containing 2001 pounds in 2017.

Hospitalizations & ER Visits

These are critical data points so we can track harmful exposure to children, inappropriate usage, and other drivers of marijuana-related hospitalizations.These and related data points prompted legislative and regulatory developments between 2014 and 2016, including child-resistant packaging requirements, requirements for edibles to be marked with a universal symbol so they can be identified even outside their packaging, limitations on the total amount of active THC in an individual retail marijuana edible, and prohibitions on the manufacturing and sales of edibles in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit.

Rates of hospitalization with possible marijuana exposures increased steadily from 2000 through 2015.

Human marijuana exposures reported to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center increased significantly from pre-legalization to 2014, then flattened out from 2014-2017.

School discipline & achievement

New data points are helping us gain a better understanding of school discipline; overall the state is not seeing an impact of recreational marijuana use on high school graduation and drop-out rates.

The total number of suspensions, expulsions, and law enforcement referrals for any reason has remained consistent post-legalization.

Marijuana was the most common single reason for school expulsions (22%) and law enforcement referrals (24 percent) in the 2016-17 school year, the first full year where marijuana was reported separately as a reason for disciplinary action.

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.

Youth Usage & Attitudes (12-17 years)

Surveys show Colorado is not experiencing an increase in youth usage of marijuana. Preventing negative impacts on youth has been a focus of various state efforts, including public education campaigns that raise awareness about the health and legal consequences of teen marijuana use. The Marijuana Impacts report compiles and analyzes data previously released in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) to examine trends related to youth usage and impacts.

The youth marijuana rate reported via NSDUH for the 2015/16 school year (9.1 percent) was the lowest it’s been since 2007/08 (9.1 percent).

According to HKCS, the proportion of high school students reporting using marijuana ever in their lifetime or reporting past 30-day use remained statistically unchanged from 2005 to 2017.

According to HKCS, the proportion of students trying marijuana before age 13 went down from 9.2 percent in 2015 to 6.5 percent in 2017.

Alcohol was the most common substance students reported using at any point in their lives (59 percent) followed by e-cigarettes (44 percent) and then marijuana (35 percent).

“Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado” is shared with state legislators and posted for the public to review online.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety (CDPS) brings together diverse agencies that share a common vision: making Colorado communities safer and more resilient. The Department includes the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Colorado State Patrol, Division of Criminal Justice, Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC), Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), Colorado School Safety Resource Center, and Colorado Integrated Criminal Justice Information System.

The Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) consists of seven offices and units that work to improve the safety of the community, the quality of services to crime victims, and the effectiveness of services to offenders. DCJ provides assistance to state and local agencies in the criminal justice system by analyzing policy, conducting criminal justice research, managing programs and administering grants.