When Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, it was expected that criminal charges related to the plant would decrease. However, a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance shows that the decrease is even more significant than predicted.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Colorado has experienced a 95 percent drop in charges for cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana. There were 38,878 charges in 2010 but only 2,036 charges in 2014.
Possession has historically been the category with the highest number of criminal charges. In 2010, there were 30,428 people charged with possession. In 2012, the year voters approved Amendment 64 effectively legalizing recreational possession and retail sales, there were only 8,928 people charged. That number dropped to just 1,922 in 2014 when retail marijuana dispensaries opened for business. It remains illegal for an adult to be found in possession of more than 1 ounce of marijuana, so anyone with more than that can still be charged.
Charges for distribution and cultivation have been lowered by more than 95 percent from 2010 to 2014. There were only 23 distribution charges and 91 cultivation charges filed in 2014.
Although they have significantly decreased, there are still notable racial disparities when it comes to marijuana arrests in the Centennial State. According to the report by Drug Policy Alliance, this is largely due to the fact that although legalization was enacted, “law enforcement practices that produce racial disparities in such arrests have not changed.”
In 2010, the marijuana possession arrest rate for white people was 335 for every 100,000 people, where as the corresponding number was 851 for every 100,000 black people. Black people make up less than 4 percent of the state’s population, but they make up over 9 percent of the marijuana possession arrests in the state of Colorado.
Additionally, even though the overall number of possession related arrests went down a great deal in 2014, black people are still arrested more than double the amount of white people for possession. They also still comprise more than 9 percent of arrests related to possession.
The state judicial system provided the data here. They compared the number of charges and cases related to marijuana before and after Amendment 64 was passed. These figures were combined with data from the National Incident Based Reporting System that is utilized by law enforcement agencies all over the state of Colorado to report crimes. The report states that the data is not all-inclusive, and leaves out some of the possession cases for Denver due to inconsistencies between criminal codes.
Art Way, Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance pointed out that even though there are still some kinks to work out for the legalization system, Colorado is on the right track.
“It’s heartening to see that tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Coloradans have been spared the travesty of getting handcuffed or being charged for small amounts of marijuana[…]By focusing on public health rather than criminalization, Colorado is better positioned to address the potential harms of marijuana use, while diminishing many of the worst aspects of the war on drugs.”