Pubdate: Wed, 17 Feb 2016
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2016 The Denver Post Corp
Author: John Ingold


When the state Senate in New Mexico this week considered a measure 
that would have asked voters whether to legalize marijuana, the 
debate inevitably became as much about Colorado as the lawmakers' home state.

When making his case against the measure, Sen. William Sharer, a 
Republican from Farmington, pointed to Denver, where he said crime 
has increased since retail marijuana stores opened in the city in 2014.

The measure ultimately failed, 24-17.

Marijuana policy experts and Colorado officials urge caution when 
trying to grade legalization's impacts - which are the subject of 
debate all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where this week 
justices are scheduled to discuss a lawsuit over pot filed against 
Colorado by two neighboring states. But there is one thing that 
legalization supporters, opponents and neutrals within Colorado agree 
on: It's unlikely marijuana has much to do with Denver's recent 
uptick in crime, as Sharer suggested it did.

"Crime is up," said Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson, " but I 
don't know if you can relate it to marijuana."

Since 2012, the year when Colorado voters passed recreational 
marijuana legalization, the number of crimes in Denver hasgrown by 
about 44 percent, according to annual figures the city reported to 
the National Incident Based Reporting System. Police have, in the 
past, argued that system potentially over-counts crimes and preferred 
instead to cite the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, which shows a 3 1/2 
percent increase over the same span. Both of those increases are 
tempered when taking population growth into account.

But, regardless of the counting system, marijuana's contribution to 
the measurement is small.

Beginning in 2012, city safety officials began tracking crimes that 
they believe are marijuana-related. The city counted 223 offenses in 
that first year, with 172 of those being connected to the marijuana 
industry, which at the time only encompassed medical marijuana 
businesses. Last year, the city counted 251 marijuana-related 
offenses, including 183 connected to the medical and recreational 
marijuana industry. (The numbers are for more serious offenses and do 
not include petty citations for violations such as public marijuana 
consumption nor do they include crimes committed by juveniles.)

That means, in any given year, marijuana-related crimes in Denver 
make up less than 1 percent of all offenses counted in the Uniform 
Crime Report and less than a half percent of all NIBRS offenses.

"There's absolutely no evidence that our change in marijuana laws has 
contributed to any specific crime increase," said Mason Tvert, one of 
the activists who helped pass legalization in Colorado.

A group of Metropolitan State University of Denver students who last 
year looked into any connection between crime trends and marijuana 
legalization concluded the same thing.

Sharer, who, like his colleagues at the New Mexico Capitol, is in the 
closing days of that state's legislative session, did not return a 
phone call for comment. But even people in Colorado who share his 
concern about legalization said the connection between Denver's crime 
trends and marijuana is overstated.

"That's a relatively small number of crimes," said Tom Gorman, the 
director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, 
an organization that has spoken out against legalization. "When you 
look at overall crime in Denver, there's so many reasons that crime 
rises and falls."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom