Colorado's retail marijuana market is only two weeks old, but it's been legal to use and carry the drug since Dec. 10, 2012. So while we can't yet measure the impact of the storefronts, we do have a good idea of how Colorado law enforcement has reacted to the law.
Between 2012 and 2013, court cases involving marijuana plummeted 77 percent. Here's the breakdown by offense, as reported by the Denver Post:
- Marijuana possession charges fell 81 percent, from 714 per month in the first nine months of 2012 to 133 per month in the first nine months of 2013.
- Charges for possessing more than 12 ounces of marijuana (under Amendment 64, the legal limit per person is one ounce) fell by 73 percent.
- Charges of intent to distribute less than five pounds fell by 70 percent.
Charges for public consumption fell by only 17 percent over the same period, but the Post says those are on the rise again.
What explains the decline? Colorado Attorney General John Suthers told the paper that he thinks officers are confused by the intricacy of Amendment 64. They've gone from being able to arrest just about anyone with marijuana, to not being able to arrest anyone over 21 carrying less than an ounce, so long as the person isn't using the drug in public. That is indeed tricky, though not really all that unfortunate.
As the Drug Policy Alliance's Art Way points out, the reduced number of marijuana arrests isn't just saving time and money for police, it's sparing people of color and the poor from the impacts of disparate enforcement, as described in the video below:
Top image: People wait in line to be among the first to legally buy recreational marijuana at the Botana Care store in Northglenn, Colorado January 1, 2014. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)