Pubdate: Tue, 19 Apr 2016
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2016 The Denver Post Corp
Authors: John Ingold and Ricardo Baca


A Report Is the State's First Try at Measuring Impact of Legalization.

Colorado's treatment centers have seen a trend toward heavier 
marijuana use among patients in the years after the state legalized 
the drug, according to a new report from the state Department of Public Safety.

The 143-page report released Monday is the state's first 
comprehensive attempt at measuring and tracking the consequences of 

In 2014, more than a third of patients in treatment reported 
near-daily use of marijuana, according to the report. In 2007, less 
than a quarter of patients reported such frequency of use.

Overall, though, the rate of people seeking treatment for marijuana 
has held steady since Colorado voters made it legal to use and 
possess small amounts of marijuana - and the rate of people 20 years 
old and younger seeking treatment has declined.

The finding is among a growing body of evidence that marijuana 
legalization has led to a shift in use patterns for at least some 
cannabis consumers, a trend that worries some researchers.

"While we have been arguing about legalization, the country has 
developed a serious cannabis abuse problem for the first time," Mark 
A.R. Kleiman, a New York University professor who studies marijuana 
legalization, said last year.

The treatment data is just one insight from the new report, which 
looks at outcomes from tax revenue to impacts on public health to 
effects on youth.

Among its findings is a steady increase in marijuana use in Colorado 
since 2006, well before the late 2000s boom in medical marijuana 
dispensaries. The report documents a sharp rise in emergency room 
visits related to marijuana, although it does not specify whether 
edible pot products are to blame. It notes a dramatic decline in 
arrests or citations for marijuana-related crimes and little change 
in the number of people arrested on suspicion of driving stoned.

But the report, written by statistical analyst Jack Reed, isn't meant 
as a final statement on legalization's impact. Because Colorado's 
data-tracking efforts have been so haphazard in the past, the report 
is more of a starting point.

"It is too early to draw any conclusions about the potential effects 
of marijuana legalization or commercialization on public safety, 
public health, or youth outcomes," Reed writes, "and this may always 
be difficult due to the lack of historical data."

It's not just the lack of data from past years that complicates the 
report. Reed also notes that legalization may have changed people's 
willingness to admit to marijuana use - leading to what appear to be 
jumps in use or hospital visits that are really just increases in 

State and local agencies also are struggling to standardize marijuana 
data-collection systems. For instance, Reed's original report noted 
an explosive increase in marijuana arrests and citations in Denver, 
up 404 percent from 2012 to 2014. That increase, however, was the 
result of inconsistent data reporting by Denver in the official 
numbers given to the state.

Prior to 2014, the city mistakenly under-reported marijuana citation 
data. Then, in 2014, it included in its numbers civil citations for 
public marijuana consumption - which is a petty offense, not a crime. 
Denver provided Reed with revised numbers late last week that show a 
75 percent decrease in marijuana arrests and citations.

Dan Rowland, a spokesman for Denver's office of marijuana policy, 
said the city has now fixed its reporting issues.

"Our base lines that we have now are going to be better," he said.

But, despite its challenges, the report identifies problems that 
policymakers will need to watch, said Andrew Freedman, who is the 
coordinator for Gov. John Hickenlooper's marijuana policy efforts. He 
pointed specifically to the increase in marijuana-related emergency 
room visits and an uptick in drug-related suspensions at schools.

"While they weren't major spikes, and while they may be attributable 
to increased enforcement and decreasing stigma, they point to 
potential long-term difficulties the state may face that are the 
unique result of legalization," he wrote in an e-mail.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom