By: Melissa Chapaska

The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice in the Department of Public Safety recently released its first comprehensive report on the impact of state marijuana legalization. Throughout this 266-page report, the agency provides substantial data regarding marijuana’s legalization’s impact on public safety, public health and behavioral health services, and youth usage rates throughout the state as mandated by Colorado Senate Bill 13‐283.

Currently, Colorado is home to over 3,100 licensed marijuana entities, including medical and recreational cultivators, retail dispensaries, testing facilities, and transporters. The Colorado marijuana industry continues to show substantial growth as shown in the chart below:

Despite the comprehensive nature of the report, the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice first acknowledged the challenges in interpreting data, “in large part because data sources vary considerably in terms of what exists historically…  it is difficult to draw conclusions about the potential effects of marijuana legalization and commercialization on public safety, public health, or youth outcomes, and this may always be the case due to the lack of historical data.” Further, the agency emphasized that “law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys continue to struggle with enforcement of the complex and sometimes conflicting marijuana laws that remain. In sum, then, the lack of pre-commercialization data, the decreasing social stigma, and challenges to law enforcement combine to make it difficult to translate these preliminary findings into definitive statements of outcomes.”

However, even with these challenges, Colorado’s report will likely serve as an important tool for policymakers as marijuana legalization efforts increase throughout state and federal legislatures. Overall, the report is promising for the cannabis industry, including the following highlights:

Economic Benefits

The impact report shows positive economic benefits to the state resulting from legalization. Total revenue from taxes, licenses, and fees increased over +266% –  from $67,594,325 in 2014 to  $ 247,368,474 in 2017 as illustrated in the chart below.

According to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, this revenue increase was driven by the sales taxes, excise taxes, licenses, and fees for retail marijuana. According to the report, $40 million of this revenue was put into school capital construction funds in 2017, as well as $27.8 million to the state’s general public school fund, while additional revenue was used to fund drug impairment training programs for law enforcement.

The report also confirms the economic opportunities are not limited to the state, with state-legal marijuana businesses responsible for over $122,500,000 in annual sales of medical and recreational marijuana products.

Reduction in Youth Use

In addition to economic growth, the impact report further shows that fears regarding increased youth use and traffic fatalities resulting from legalization have not materialized. As shown in the chart below, use of marijuana among high school students is declining in Colorado and currently less than the national average.

Specifically, high school student marijuana use in Colorado decreased between 2013 (19.7%) and 2017 (19.4%). Additionally, number of juvenile marijuana arrests decreased 16%, from 3,168 in 2012 to 2,655 in 2017.

The report further found that Senate Bill 12‐046 and House Bill 12-1345’s targeted reform of “zero tolerance” policies in schools appears to have decreased expulsions, suspensions, and referrals to law enforcement.

Reduction in Traffic Fatalities with THC Impairment

According to CDOT and illustrated in the chart below, the number of fatalities in which a driver tested positive for Delta‐9 THC at or above the 5.0 ng/mL level declined from 52 (13% of all fatalities) in 2016 to 35 in 2017 (8% of all fatalities).

While Colorado’s report provides only a preliminary look at the budding marijuana industry, the timing of its release is important for the industry as the mid-term election draws near and more states consider implementing marijuana programs.

For more information on this report or developing your marijuana business, please contact us.