Marijuana Charges in Colorado Down Over 90 Percent Since A64, Study Shows

Graphics and more below.
Graphics and more below.
Thinkstock

During the run-up to the November 2012 election, proponents of Amendment 64 argued that passage of the measure, which legalized limited recreational marijuana sales, would reduce the number of pot cases clogging Colorado courts.

According to a new study, this prediction has been proven true over the years that followed.

The report, by the Drug Policy Alliance, shows that the number of marijuana-related court cases has fallen by more than 90 percent in four major categories.

We've included the complete document below, but here's an excerpt from its introduction that hits some significant highpoints:

This report reveals that marijuana-related charges statewide (not including Denver) decreased by 85% between 2010 and 2014. An overwhelming majority of this decrease in charges came in the aftermath of Amendment 64. Possession charges at all levels (not simply the level now legal or previously considered a petty offense) are the primary reason for the decline. Cultivation charges over the last two years were halved when compared to the previous two years before Amendment 64.

In addition, all drug-related charges are down 23% since 2010. This underscores the central role of marijuana prohibition in the drug war, as well as marijuana legalization’s implications for criminal justice reform more generally.

The analysis includes a number of graphics that spotlight major findings. This one enumerates marijuana charges in Colorado courts, minus some possession data for Denver "because of differences between local ordinances and State Criminal Code." Note that the 2014 figures are "prorated based on data for 49 weeks."

Similarly stark differences pre- and post-Amendment 64 can be found in another graphic depicting marijuana possession court cases in the top twenty Colorado counties, as measured by the 2010 caseload. The same caveats about Denver data and prorated 2014 figures apply to these numbers, as well.

News related to charges against people of color isn't quite as positive. Here's another excerpt from the introduction:

This report also finds that racial disparities for marijuana offenses persist at similar levels as before Amendment 64. However, disparities for the charge of intent to distribute actually went down, easing fears of many racial justice advocates.

While the overall decrease in marijuana-related offenses statewide has been enormously beneficial to communities of color, one troubling concern is the rise in disparities for the charge of public consumption, especially in Denver.

It is also worth noting that, due to a lack of credible data, this report does not analyze Amendment 64’s impact on the state’s Latino population.

Additionally, synthetic-marijuana arrests have fallen 27 percent since retail marijuana stores were allowed to open — a positive in the view of the report's authors: "Given the health impacts of marijuana are more established and understood than those related to synthetic marijuana, advocates see this as yet another potential benefit of legalization."

Among the organizations cheering the results is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which describes itself as a criminal-justice group opposed to the War on Drugs. In comments shared with Westword, LEAP spokeswoman Diane Goldstein, a retired lieutenant commander, notes, "The ability of law enforcement to protect the community is essential, but they've been distracted by the wrong crimes for way too long. Now that police in Colorado aren't spending all their time arresting tens of thousands of non-violent marijuana offenders, they can start going after people who are truly a menace to public safety.

"This huge reduction in non-violent marijuana arrests will surely help repair community relations with the police," Goldstein continues. "People whose only crime is marijuana possession are not harming their communities. What does harm the community are pointless arrests that affect job and educational opportunities for young people and erode trust between police and the people they're supposed to be protecting from violence." 

Here's the report.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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