5 Mind-Blowing Policing Results of Colorado's Marijuana Legalization

Coloradans voted to legalize marijuana in November 2012, possession became legal early the next year, and legal marijuana sales began in January 2014. The sky hasn't fallen, and the state has already seen a decrease in traffic fatalities, an increase in tax revenues, and the emergence of a $700 million a year pot industry, with all the economic benefits it brings.

Now, new report from the Drug Policy Alliance adds to the good news with some shocking, but not surprising, numbers about the impact of legalization on marijuana arrests in the state.

“What is often overlooked concerning marijuana legalization is that it is first and foremost a criminal justice reform,” said Denise Maes, Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Colorado. “This report reminds us of how law enforcement and our judiciary are now able to better allocate time and energy for more pressing concerns.”

Here are some of the most eye-popping findings in the report:

1.      Since 2010, marijuana possession charges are down by more than 90%, marijuana cultivation charges are down by 96%, and marijuana distribution charges are down by 99%.

2.      The number of marijuana possession charges in Colorado courts has decreased by more than 25,000 since 2010 – from 30,428 in 2010 to just 1,922 in 2014.

3.      According to raw data from the NIBRS, drug-related incidents are down 23% since 2010, based on a 53% drop in marijuana-related incidents.

4.      Marijuana distribution charges for young men of color also declined dramatically following legalization. The black rate for distribution incidents dropped from 87 per 100,000 in 2012 to 25 per 100,000 in 2014.

5.      The report also reveals a decline in synthetic marijuana arrests, presumably because people are less likely to use synthetic marijuana when marijuana itself is no longer criminalized.

These are all good news—for marijuana users, for Colorado taxpayers, and for people who don't approve of imposing criminal sanctions on other people merely for using the wrong substance.

But it's not all good news. Although the rate of black men getting arrested for dealing pot has declined, racial disparities still remain and in fact remain unchanged. The marijuana arrest rate for blacks was 2.4 times higher than the arrest rate for whites in 2010 and 2014 alike. The Drug Policy Alliance suggests this is due mainly to an increase in charges for public use and because police interact disproportionately with people in communities of color.

“The overall decrease in arrests, charges and cases is enormously beneficial to communities of color who bore the brunt of marijuana prohibition prior to the passage of Amendment 64,” said Rosemary Harris Lytle, Regional Chair of the NAACP.  “However, we are concerned with the rise in disparity for the charge of public consumption and challenge law enforcement to ensure this reality is not discriminatory in any manner.”

Ending pot prohibition saves a lot of people from going to jail over their choice of intoxicants, and that's a huge victory for justice. But, while it can have an impact on racially biased policing, that problem goes much deeper than the marijuana laws. 


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