Colorado Safety Report Outlines Impacts Since Start of Cannabis Sales

Colorado Safety Report Outlines Impacts Since Start of Cannabis Sales
Jacqueline Collins
When Colorado voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana in 2012, the state scrambled to set up new data collecting and research programs to analyze the effects of Amendment 64. In 2013, the year before rec pot sales began on January 1, 2014, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill requiring the state to compile baseline data on youth marijuana use, the impact of cannabis on impaired driving and other social issues, and then issue a follow-up report within the decade.

This week, the Colorado Department of Public Safety published that progress report, documenting a number of high points and speed bumps along the way to the present. The report, nearly 200 pages long and using information collected by numerous state and federal agencies, dives into marijuana-related crime, traffic accidents, youth use, emergency calls and commercial revenue, among other areas.

Here's a look at the report:


Colorado's legal marijuana revenue has been on an upward swing since legalization, with dispensaries accounting for nearly $2.2 billion in sales last year. The market growth led to annual tax, license and fee revenue increasing 473 percent from 2014 to 2020, according to the report, going from $67,594,325 to $387,480,111. Funding for Colorado public schools has increased as a result, with the state Public School Fund and Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund combined receiving over $120.3 million in 2020, compared to $11.35 million in 2014.

Colorado Department of Public Safety


The total number of marijuana arrests decreased by 68 percent between 2012 and 2019, according to the report, from 13,225 to 4,290. However, the 2:1 disparity rate between Black and white individuals for marijuana offenses remained the same, according to the state's study, reflecting a similar conclusion reached last year by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Organized crime cases in Colorado involving marijuana spiked a few years ago, jumping from 31 in 2012 to 119 in 2017. After concerted efforts between local law enforcement agencies and the United States Department of Justice to combat illegal growing and trafficking operations, however, that number dropped back down to 13 cases in 2018 and 34 cases in 2019, the report says.

Despite the drop in organized crime, illegal marijuana seizures in Colorado accounted for 27,367 pounds of product in 2019, the most since 2012. Nearly 28,000 illegal pot plants were confiscated in 2019 as well — the second-highest amount since 2012, but a decrease from the 38,044 seized in 2018, according to the report.

People on probation are testing positive for THC more often since recreational legalization, the report notes, with 47 percent of probationers ages 18 to 25 testing positive in 2019, up from 32 percent in 2012. Probationers over 35 also tested positive at higher rates, going from 14 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2019.

Adult and youth consumption

The report found several interesting trends regarding marijuana consumption among Colorado adults. Notably,  marijuana use reported over the past thirty days rose significantly among adults from 2014 to 2019, going from 13.4 percent to 19 percent — nearly one in five.

The most common frequency of cannabis use by adults in 2019 was daily or near-daily, at 48.2 percent, followed by weekly at 31.6 percent and 20.2 percent monthly. Based on that data, nearly one in ten Colorado adults was a daily or near-daily marijuana user as of 2019.

The overall rate of treatment admissions for those reporting marijuana as their primary substance of use decreased from 2012 to 2019, the report notes, dropping from 222 admissions per 100,000 people in 2012 to 182 in 2019.

One interesting but fairly benign revelation was how often college students think their peers are getting high. According to the report, Colorado college students thought 93 percent of their classmates were regular marijuana users in 2020, but fewer than 33 percent actually reported using pot within the last thirty days.

Colorado Department of Public Safety
In analyzing use of cannabis by minors, the report cited data from the state Department of Public Health and Environment's Healthy Kids Colorado Survey in 2019.

The CDPHE survey found that marijuana use had risen slightly since legalization, but not by much. In 2019, 20.6 percent of Colorado students over fourteen reported that they'd used marijuana one or more times in the past thirty days, while 51.4 percent said that marijuana was easy for them to get. In 2017, 19.4 percent of Colorado kids said they'd smoked weed within the last thirty days, but slightly more (53.5 percent) thought it was easy to obtain. The use of high-potency marijuana products rose significantly among teenagers from 2017 to 2019, however, and has more than doubled since 2015.

Colorado Department of Public Safety
Marijuana use ranks behind alcohol and electronic cigarettes among high-schoolers, the report adds, but marijuana was cited as the primary substance of use by 73.5 percent of people eighteen and younger who were admitted for substance-abuse treatment. However, marijuana's status as a primary substance was only 27.3 percent for adults ages eighteen to twenty seeking treatment, and 6.6 percent for adults 21 and up.

Emergency calls

Calls to Colorado poison control mentioning marijuana exposure have significantly increased for over a decade, with much of that rise taking place before recreational legalization. From 2006 to 2019, such calls increased at a rate of over 570 percent, going from 41 to 276 per year.

The initial increases occurred across all age groups, according to data from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, with the biggest bumps coming in the five-and-younger group, which was connected to fifteen calls in 2012 and 103 calls in 2019.

Impaired driving

Since legalization, Colorado has invested in training more law enforcement officers to detect drug use, with 129 officers holding such qualifications in 2012 and over 220 as of last year. The rate of adults who admit to driving within two or three hours of using marijuana remained flat from 2014 to 2019, but the state Department of Transportation has reported an increase in fatalities where drivers test positive for Delta-9 THC at or above the state limit of 5 nanograms per liter of blood — though there are questions in the scientific community about the accuracy of that impairment testing method.

Colorado Department of Public Safety
Here's the  full report:
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell