The Legalisation of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact Vol. 1/August 2013




2006 – 2008: There were between 1,000 and 4,800 medical marijuana cardholders and no known dispensaries operating in Colorado.

2009 – 2012: There were over 108,000 medical marijuana cardholders and 532 licensed dispensaries operating in Colorado by November 2012.


Colorado Youth Marijuana Use: In 2011, the national average for youth 12 to 17 years old considered “current” marijuana users was 7.64 percent which was the highest average since 1981. The Colorado average percent was 10.72.


Colorado Adult Marijuana Use: In 2011, the national average for young adults ages 18 to 25 considered current marijuana users was at 18.7 percent. The Colorado average was 27.26 percent.


Colorado Emergency Room – Marijuana Admissions: From 2005 through 2008 there was an average of 741 visits per year to the emergency room in Colorado for marijuana-related incidents involving youth. That number increased to 800 visits per year between 2009 and 2011.


Colorado Marijuana-Related Exposure Cases: From 2005 through 2008, the yearly average number of marijuana-related exposures for children ages 0 to 5 years was 4. For 2009 through 2012, that number increased 200 percent to an average of 12 per year.


Diversion of Colorado Marijuana (General): From 2005 to 2008, compared to 2009 to 2012, interdiction seizures involving Colorado marijuana quadrupled from an average per year of 52 to 242. During the same period, the average number of pounds of Colorado marijuana seized per year increased 77 percent from an average of 2,220 to 3,937 pounds. A total of 7,008 pounds was seized in 2012


Beginning in the spring of 2009, Colorado experienced an explosion to over 20,000 new medical marijuana patient applications and the emergence of over 250 medical marijuana dispensaries (allowed to operate as “caregivers”). One dispensary owner claimed to be a primary caregiver to 1,200 patients. Government took little or no action against these commercial operations.

By the end of 2009, new patient applications jumped from around 6,000 for the first seven years to an additional 38,000 in just one year. Actual cardholders went from 4,800 in 2008 to 41,000 in 2009. By mid-2010, there were over 900 marijuana dispensaries identified by law enforcement.

In 2010, law enforcement sought legislation to ban dispensaries and reinstate the one-to-five ratio of caregiver to patient as the model. However, in 2010 the Colorado Legislature passed HB-1284 which legalized medical marijuana centers (dispensaries), marijuana cultivation operations, and manufacturers for marijuana edible products. By 2012, there were 532 licensed dispensaries in Colorado and over 108,000 registered patients, 94 percent of who qualified for a card because of severe pain.


Traffic fatalities in Colorado decreased 16 percent1, from 2006 to 2011, which is consistent with national trends. During the same six years in Colorado, traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for just marijuana increased 114 percent.2

• In 2006 in Colorado, traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana represented 5 percent of the total traffic fatalities. By 2011, that percent more than doubled to 13 percent.2

• In 2006, drivers testing positive for marijuana were involved in 28 percent of fatal vehicle crashes involving drugs. By 2011 that number had increased to 56 percent.2


DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs)

Victim Voice President Ed Wood shares his perspective on drugged driving:

“Drivers on drugs are involved in a remarkably high proportion of fatalities. When we look at only collisions where drivers’ blood tests were reported, we see that 36 percent of the fatalities involved drivers testing positive for drugs, and 20 percent tested positive for marijuana. These percentages held steady from 2006 through 2009 (averaging 29 percent and 12 percent respectively), but the marijuana numbers took a big jump to 17 percent in 2010 and again to 20 percent in 2011 after dispensaries were established.”



The French National Institute for Transportation and Safety Research, in a study published in 2005 by the British Medical Journal, concludes that even small amounts of marijuana could double the chances of a driver suffering a crash and larger doses could more than triple the risk.

• According to the Columbia University School of Public Health, the risk of an automobile crash is almost 2.7 times higher among marijuana users than non-users. The more marijuana smoked in terms of frequency and potency, the greater likelihood of a crash.4


• Glenn Davis, Highway Safety Manager, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Office of Transportation Safety, said that of drug-related deaths, half involved marijuana. He stated, “You have a substance [marijuana] that causes impairment that is more readily available than it was two years ago.” Davis said that was because of the increasing use of medical marijuana in Colorado.5


• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2009) found more people are driving on weekend nights under the influence of marijuana (8.3 percent) compared to alcohol (2.2 percent).6


• Close to one out of four teens admit to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and, of those, 75 percent do not believe smoking marijuana adversely affects their driving.7


• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2004) found that marijuana significantly impairs one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. They cite: decreased car handling performance, inability to maintain headway, impaired time and distance estimation, increased reaction time, lack of motor coordination and impaired sustained vigilance.8

• An article published in the Volume 34, 2012 edition of Epidemiologic Reviews examined nine studies conducted over the past two decades on marijuana and car crash risks. Their conclusion: “Drivers who tested positive for marijuana, or self-reported using marijuana, are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in motor vehicle crashes.”


A study published by the National Institute of Health Public Access in 2009 showed that the effects of marijuana vary more between the individual than the effects of alcohol. The study also states that laboratory tests and driving studies show, “Cannabis may acutely impair several driving-related skills in a dose-related fashion but the effects between individuals varies more than they do with alcohol because of tolerance, the difference in smoking techniques and different absorption of THC.” The study warns that patients who smoke marijuana should be counseled to have a designated driver if possible or to wait at least three hours after smoking.10

• A 2009 study published by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany claimed that states with legalized medical marijuana actually had a drop in traffic deaths. This study was not peer reviewed. The states selected were Vermont with only 400 cardholders, Rhode Island with only 3,000 cardholders and Montana which had only 6,000 cardholders.11

• A study by Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada) Associate Professors Ashbridge and Hayden published in the British Medical Journal on February 9, 2012 showed: “Driving under the influence of cannabis was associated with a significantly increased risk of motor vehicle collisions compared with unimpaired driving.


Students’ Current Marijuana Use

In 2011, nearly one out of four of the Boulder County School District high school students (9th – 12th grade) surveyed indicated that they were current marijuana users.  This is more than three times the national rate.

o In academic school years 2008 – 2010, an average of 20.75 percent of Adams County high school students surveyed indicated they were current marijuana users (at least once in the last 30 days). That number increased 39 percent during academic years 2010 – 2012 to 28.85 percent.


In the academic school years 2008 – 2010, an average of 5.65 percent of Adams County middle school students surveyed indicated they were current marijuana users (at least once in the last 30 days). That number increased 50 percent during academic years 2010 – 2012 to 8.5 percent.11



Colorado Springs Drug Testing High School Referrals o Drug-related referrals for high school students testing positive for marijuana have increased each year from 2007 – 2012. During 2007 – 2009 an average of 5.6 students tested positive for marijuana.

During 2010 – 2012 the average number of students who tested positive for marijuana increased to 17.3 students per year.


In 2007, tests positive for marijuana made up 33 percent of the total drug screenings, by 2012 that number increased to 57 percent.


Detected THC levels in the students increased by 76 percent after 2009. § 2007 – 2009 the average THC level quantified = 225 nanograms.

2010 – 2012 the average THC level quantified = 396 nanograms.


Current Marijuana Use Rates for 12th-Graders

In 2011, the average of 12th graders using marijuana in the last 30 days:  Nationally – 28.0 percent12 (22.6 percent2 according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse [NIDA])

Colorado – 31.2 percent10

Denver Public Schools – 32 percent6

Boulder County High Schools – 36 percent3


High School Senior Daily Use of Marijuana o Nationally in 2011, of the 12th grade respondents, 6.6 percent reported smoking marijuana daily, which is the highest level since 1981 when the rate was 7 percent. In 2011, 7.8 percent of Colorado’s high school seniors reported using marijuana 40 or more times per month.  Another 2.9 percent reported using marijuana between 20 and 39 times a month.


Colorado Department of Education- Drug Related Suspensions and Expulsions

There was a 32 percent increase in drug-related expulsions and suspensions from the 2008 – 2009 academic year to 2009 – 2010 academic year.7

For the academic years ending in 07, 08, and 09, drug related expulsions/suspensions remained stable with an average of 3,782.7

For the academic years ending in 10, 11, and 12, drug-related expulsions/suspensions increased to an average of 5,217.7 This is a 37 percent increase.


“Drug violations shot up dramatically in Colorado schools during the 2009-2010 school year, reversing a decade of steady decline…”9

Rebecca Jones, reporter, EdNews Colorado



• The average reported past month marijuana use for young adults (ages 18-25) in 2011: o The national average = 18.78 percent

o The Colorado average = 27.26 percent


• The average reported past month marijuana use for adults (ages 26+) in Colorado has increased from 5.32 percent in 2008 to 8.19 percent in 2011. That is a 54 percent increase.



Drug Abuse Warning Network (Ages 12 – 17) Data: o Colorado ER visits per year related to marijuana only:

2005 – 2008 = 741 average visits per year

2009 – 2011 = 800 average visits per year


In 2011, Colorado ER data showed that marijuana-related incidents accounted for 26 percent of the total ER visits, compared to 21 percent nationally.



• Young children (ages 0 to 5) marijuana-related exposures in Colorado


During the years 2006 – 2008, the average number of marijuana-related exposures for ages 0 to 5 was 4 per year.1

For the years 2009 – 2012, the average number of marijuana-related exposures for ages 0 to 5 was 12 per year.1 § This is a 200 percent increase.



El Paso Intelligence Center, National Seizure System

NOTE: This only includes those cases in which Colorado marijuana was actually seized and reported. It is unknown how many

Colorado marijuana loads were not detected or, if seized, were not reported.


El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) has established the National Seizure System (NSS) for voluntary reporting interdiction seizures throughout the country.



Many state highway patrols have done a good job reporting their highway seizures. RMHIDTA was able to identify the number of interdiction seizures involving marijuana from Colorado destined for other states in the country.


• In 2012, there were 274 Colorado marijuana interdiction seizures destined for other states compared to 54 in 2005. This is a 407 percent increase.


• Of the 274 seizures in 2012, there were 37 different states destined to receive marijuana from Colorado. The most common destinations were Kansas (37), Missouri (30), Illinois (22) Texas (18), Wisconsin (18), Florida (16) and Nebraska (13). There were some seizures in which the destination state was unknown.

• From 2005 – 2008, compared to 2009 – 2012, the average number of interdiction seizures per year involving Colorado marijuana more than quadrupled from 52.2 to 242.

• From 2005 – 2008, compared to 2009 – 2012, the total average number of pounds of Colorado marijuana seized from interdictions increased 77 percent from an average of 2,220 pounds to 3,937.


• In 2012, there were 7,008 pounds of Colorado marijuana seized by interdictions that were destined for other states in the country.


• The top three Colorado counties identified as the source for the marijuana in 2012 were Denver (141), Boulder (27) and El Paso (24).


Dispensary “Patient” Sells Fifty Percent of His Dispensary Marijuana to Juveniles: On May 31, 2012, North Metro Task Force executed a residential search warrant in Thornton, COLORADO where a 19-year-old male was selling marijuana. The suspect admitted to selling marijuana for two years but recently expanded his business after getting his medical marijuana card. He stated that he gets the marijuana he sells from a dispensary in the Denver Metro area. The suspect admitted he purchases approximately 5 to 6 ounces of marijuana per week. He sells 60 percent while using or sharing the other 40 percent. He estimated that his profit is approximately 30 percent. He admitted to three to four drug sales per day, seven days per week. He also stated that 50 percent of these sales are directly to juveniles. He said dispensary marijuana is easy to get and is of high quality.

Impaired Driver Cites Ease of Getting Dispensary Marijuana: In April 2012, the Thornton Police Department (COLORADO) contacted a driver who admitted to smoking marijuana while driving. She failed voluntary roadside tests and was arrested. During a search of her vehicle officers found 3 ounces of marijuana with dispensary stickers. In an interview she admitted she does not have a medical marijuana card. She stands in front of dispensaries and asks people to buy her marijuana. She admitted that she had done this multiple times and had never gone away empty handed. When asked why she goes to dispensaries, she stated that the marijuana is better but the main reason was availability. She said she never had to wait more than two hours to get a couple ounces of marijuana. Conversely, when she was buying from other sources she sometimes would have to wait and never get what she wanted. She noted the ease and certainty of buying marijuana has made using dispensaries well worth it.


In a press release dated August 13, 2012, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers stated, “It is becoming clear that as predicted in the 2010 legislative hearings, Colorado is becoming a significant exporter of marijuana to the rest of the country.”

A 2011 report from the Drug Enforcement Administration – Denver Field Division states, “Colorado’s medical marijuana system allows for a widespread exportation and illicit marijuana distribution…. Colorado is on track to become a primary source of supply for high-grade marijuana throughout the country.”2

Nebraska State Patrol Sergeant Dana Korell: “Marijuana out of Colorado is having a local impact. It is flooding, just flooding the marketplace. It’s everywhere.”3

Cheyenne County (Nebraska) Sheriff John Jensen claims legalizing marijuana in Colorado changed local drug trafficking in a way not seen in his seventeen years in law enforcement. “Now you have dispensaries, you have grow houses in our neighboring states that are growing a much better product.” “Now we’re getting the high-grade marijuana” coming across the border.3

The Intelligence Center’s analysis of the illegal drug market in the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which includes Nebraska, found “demand for high-potency marijuana has increased during the last three years, fueling both increased indoor hydroponic grows and importation from California and Colorado.”4


United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) “Prohibited Mailing of Narcotics”

(PMN) drug database:

This database does not capture parcels with smaller amounts of marijuana which are handled administratively.


• From 2010 – 2013, the number of intercepted parcel packages of marijuana from Colorado, has increased each year:

2010: 15 parcels

2011: 36 parcels

2012: 158 parcels § Over ten times the number seized in 2010

2013: 209 parcels – only as of May 2013 (five months)


• From 2010 – 2012 the total pounds of marijuana seized from packages mailed from Colorado has increased each year:

In 2010: total of 57 pounds were seized

In 2011: total of 68 pounds were seized

In 2012: total of 262 pounds were seized § Nearly five times the amount seized in 2010

These figures only reflect packages seized. They do not count packages of Colorado marijuana that were mailed and reached the intended destination.


In 2013: 205 pounds have been seized – as of May 2013 (five months)


• Between 2010 and 2012, the number of states destined to receive marijuana mailed from Colorado has increased each year:

In 2010 – 10 states

In 2011 – 24 states

In 2012 – 29 states

In 2013 – 23 states in only the first three months

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