Denver Police issue tickets for smoking marijuana in public during the 420 celebration at the Denver 420 Rally in Civic Center Park on April 20, 2014. (Denver Post file)

Is legalization a success? New reports spin Colorado pot stats

The number of people being charged for marijuana possession in Colorado has cratered, while the number of people cited for using marijuana in public has skyrocketed.

Those are two of the conflicting takeaways from dueling reports put out this week by groups in favor of or opposed to marijuana legalization. And it shows how the legalization of marijuana use and sales in states like Colorado, far from settling the nationwide debate over pot, has instead given both sides more to fight about.

The reports come from two groups: the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance and the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Both reports look at the impact of legalization in Colorado, one year into recreational marijuana sales.


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The Drug Policy Alliance paper reports that citations for marijuana possession in Colorado have dropped from 9,011 in 2010 to a projected 1,464 in 2014, per Colorado judicial data. The Smart Approaches to Marijuana report, meanwhile, notes that citations for public marijuana use in Denver jumped from 184 in 2013 to 668 in 2014. Despite legalization, possession of more than an ounce of marijuana by non-medical marijuana patients and public use of marijuana remain illegal.

Most of the data in the reports is familiar in the debate over legalization’s impacts. The Drug Policy Alliance report notes the tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue that Colorado has collected and points to a statewide decrease in traffic fatalities. The Smart Approaches to Marijuana report cites an increase in accidental marijuana ingestions by kids and a reported increase in marijuana use by Coloradans in 2012 and 2013.

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Art Way, with the Drug Policy Alliance, said Colorado’s 2014 shows marijuana legalization can be managed successfully.

“The doomsday vision of those who look to maintain prohibition has not come to fruition,” he said.

Kevin Sabet, with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said Colorado needs to do a better job of tracking legalization’s consequences.

“We have 100 kinds of marijuana gummy bears out there, but no way to find out what the costs of such a policy are,” he said in a statement.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, or

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