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New report outlines impacts of Colorado’s marijuana legalization

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- It's been a little over seven years since Colorado first started selling recreational-use cannabis, and a new report this week from the state's Division of Criminal Justice shows the criminal and societal impacts legalization has had so far.

Amendment 64 made cannabis legal for retail sale and possession, and the first sales began on Jan. 1, 2014. The full report is nearly 200 pages long, but here's a summary of the main points the report found.

Adult use of cannabis up, youth use increases slightly

Since then, the state has found that while adult use of marijuana has increased, there hasn't been a significant increase in cannabis use among youth -- 19% of adults reported marijuana use in the past 30 days during a survey in 2019, compared to 13.4% of adults in 2014.

Since recreational legalization, adults have shifted slightly away from smoking flower to instead "dabbing" cannabis concentrates or consuming edibles. A new bill signed into law this year in Colorado enacted new regulations on marijuana concentrates, including limiting the amount that medical marijuana patients can purchase in a day.

A survey of middle school and high school students found that the past 30-day use rate went from 19.7% in 2013 to 20.6% in 2019. However, about 21.7% of high school students nationwide reported cannabis use in the past 30 days.

Arrests drop significantly, but racial disparity persists

According to the Division of Criminal Justice, the total number of marijuana arrests dropped by 68% from 2012 to 2019. The big drops in arrests were for possession and sales, though arrests for cannabis production increased by about 3%.

However, despite the big drop in arrests, the marijuana arrest rate for Black people in Colorado was more than double the rate for white people. According to the Division of Criminal Justice, Black people were arrested at a rate of 160 per 100,000 compared to 76 white arrests per 100,000. According to the ACLU, the cannabis use rates between Black and white people are about equal.

For juveniles, the number of marijuana arrests decreased about 37%, from 3,265 in 2012 to 2,064 in 2019. A racial disparity exists among juvenile arrests as well, according to the data. White juveniles were arrested at a rate of 352 per 100,000, compared to 429 per 100,000 for Black juveniles.

The number of court cases related to marijuana also declined by about 55%, following the drop in arrests. There were 9,925 marijuana-related court filings in 2012 and 4,489 filings in 2019.

The report also noted that since legalization, more people on probation have tested positive for THC. About 47% of probationers aged 18 to 25 tested positive for THC in 2019, compared to 32% of probationers testing positive in 2012.

But DUIs involving marijuana skyrocket

Even with the big drop in arrests for marijuana possession and sales, the state says there was a big jump, about a 120% increase, in summonses issued by Colorado State Patrol for DUIs that involved marijuana.

According to the state's report, there were 684 DUIs with marijuana alone or marijuana-in-combination in 2012. That rose to 1,508 in 2020.

The report points out that a survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2019 found that 3.5% of adults reported driving within two to three hours of using cannabis in the prior 30 days.

Cannabis trafficking past Colorado's peak

One of the challenges faced by law enforcement when Colorado became the first state in the lower 48 to legalize cannabis was enforcing the shipment of products to other states.

According to the Division of Criminal Justice, a Drug Enforcement Agency database was put together for law enforcement agencies to report drug seizures for Colorado-sourced marijuana. That database showed that Colorado-sourced marijuana seizures went from 286 in 2012 to 673 in 2017, but that then dropped back down to 266 in 2019.

The full report can be found here.

The Impacts of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado report also points out how much money has been made by the state from cannabis. According to the report, the total revenue from taxes, licenses, and fees increased from $67 million in 2014 to $387 million in 2020. A total of $120 million in taxes was transferred to the school capital construction fund in 2020, compared to $33 million in 2015.

Andrew McMillan

Author Profile Photo

Spencer Soicher

Spencer is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.



  1. Now we know why El Paso County has so many nuts running around in it. We have over double the amount of medical Marijuana licenses issued compared to Denver.

  2. And of course we had to put something about race in the article. Makes me wonder who the racists really are…. we already know blm is a racist organization just like the kkk, now we have racist news outlets turning everything into a race issue when it isn’t…

    1. I would really love to know how you know blm is a racist organization – facts, please, not just your own misguided feelings.

  3. To have a more balanced article, drunk (alcohol)driving arrest statistics for the same time period would be helpful.

      1. Good link. Unfortunately, the latest numbers in that report are from 2019, before the Covid pandemic. I bet the number have changed significantly since then.

  4. Any report that comes out of the last year is going to be askew because of CO-VID 19. Nothing about the last year was normal, alcohol usage or Marijuana usage. I would imagine you would see a raise in both categories because of the stress the pandemic placed upon a lot of households. What I do find funny is when Marijuana was legalized recreationally in 2014, LEO’s were advised to make sure to be mindful of the increase this would bring. Those expected negative statistics never arrived, so LEO’s were advised again to watch for the next year as well, again it never occurred. 7 years later, after CO-VID occurred and the Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announces plans to decriminalize Marijuana, this is the first time Marijuana was even a blip on the RADAR, so now naysayers and politicians that are paid-off by alcohol industry lobbyists are drumming up negative statistics that simply didn’t exist before CO-VID.

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