Marijuana in jars at Denver Kush Club
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In this Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 photograph, jars of different type of marijuana sit on counter during a sale at the Denver Kush Club in north Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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A new state report on marijuana in Colorado found that arrests have dropped significantly since recreational sales began in 2014, primarily because possession charges have plummeted.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety report, released Friday, also concluded that use among youths does not appear to be increasing, that traffic deaths directly attributable to marijuana are down and that revenues have nearly quadrupled since 2014 to $247 million.

It also pointed to several trouble spots.

Crashes on the rise in Colorado, other states where marijuana is legal, highway safety study finds

Organized crime charges are up. So are arrests for smuggling cannabis edibles and concentrates. Hospital and emergency room visits and poison control center calls have also grown.

The report notes, however, that its findings should be treated with caution because hidden factors may account for apparent trends. It points to decreased social stigma, for example, as a possible explanation for increased hospital reports.

The findings should be considered “baseline and preliminary, in large part because data source vary considerably in terms of what exists historically,” the department said.

The book-length report, bolstered with charts and appendices, is sure to give ample reading materials to legislators who have required periodic updates on the impact of legalization.

Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, praised the department’s work.

It shows that legalization “can be effective in mitigating the harms associated with prohibition, while putting $247 million in marijuana revenue to work to help fund or close the gap on important state priorities,” she said.

At the same time, she acknowledged that “a small group of illegal and illicit cultivators and distributors are a thorn.”

The report generally compares data from 2012, two years before recreational sales, to 2017.

Some highlights:

• Marijuana arrests decreased 52 percent as illegal possession charges became rarer. Marijuana production arrests increased, however, by 51 percent.

• Several findings point to a growing black market. The number of organized crime filings quadrupled, from 31 in 2012 to 119 last year. Marijuana-related felonies dropped between 2012 and 2014, but have more than doubled since. Plant seizures on public lands are growing, and smugglers have turned to exporting more concentrated products.

• Use among Colorado schoolchildren appears close to national averages, but marijuana continues to be a leading cause of expulsions.

• DUI arrests declined from 2014 to 2017, but the percentage attributed to marijuana or marijuana combined with other intoxicants grew from 12 percent to 15 percent.

The department emphasized that its report is a first step toward understanding the effects of legalization.

In sum, “the lack of pre-commercialization data, the decreasing social stigma and challenges to law enforcement combine to make it difficult to translate these preliminary findings into definitive statements of outcomes,” the department concluded.

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