Colorado is playing smart
July 5, 2014 3:11 AM   Subscribe

Six months after legalizing cannabis , Colorado is cashing in money while Denver crime rates have suddenly fallen. Meanwhile, in the rest of the World...
posted by LetsKa (38 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
This should have at least been posted at 4:20 AM Denver time.

One wonders how much violence reduction is because there is less illicit commerce and how much is because criminals are chilled the fuck out.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 3:22 AM on July 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


In this whole de-criminalization has no one thought of the poor owners of all those for-profit prisons! What the hell!
posted by From Bklyn at 3:28 AM on July 5, 2014 [22 favorites]


I imagine in a few years folks will stop complaining about Colorado legalizing marijuana and start complaining about how heavily Colorado is taxing marijuana.
posted by logicpunk at 3:34 AM on July 5, 2014 [45 favorites]


If you remove the need for covert activities, you remove the paranoia and the need for extraordinary precaution. Yeah, everybody probably just mellowed out in a non-antagonistic way. What a concept.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:41 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've been watching, in frustration, the debate here in Tasmania over the last few weeks, where the government has rejected both a trial of growing medical cannabis for export and industrial hemp farming - and where even those supporting the development of these industries have been constantly giving every soundbite a tough caveat about the dangers of "recreational use". This in a state with a lagging economy and limited agricultural and development opportunities. I find it difficult to believe that in 2014 politicians who wouldn't dare hold an event without copious amounts of alcohol available, who wouldn't say a word against Tasmania's wine, whiskey and beer industries, who should be quite aware of the statistics on the acute and chronic dangers of alcohol, insist on clutching pearls about cannabis.

These numbers from Colorado are early - but I can only hope the trend continues, and lawmakers around the world can see that legalizing cannabis won't generate a society of vicious dope fiends, or whatever the hell they expect to happen.
posted by Jimbob at 3:47 AM on July 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


I'm very much in favor of full legalization, but that article was a little disingenuous. First of all, it's a little silly to cite the drop in marijuana-related arrests after decriminalization. Yes, it has positive effects, but the article was trying to imply something more significant i.e. that decriminalization has caused a reduction in other crimes.

Which leads to my second of all...if you look at the spreadsheet for Denver crime statistics that the article links to, you'll notice that the number of murders per month was below six during all surveyed periods. In other words, a 50% drop is not statistically significant over a span of a few months. A quick glance at the other numbers of the page doesn't seem to reflect any significant changes. Which is itself a fine thing that we need not overstate.

I kind of doubt that marijuana is particularly associated with a lot of other crime, either way. Sure, removing that market will put a few unsavory characters out of business, but there are plenty of other markets to move on to (which are both nastier and more profitable). I think that there will be benefits to legalization, but they're probably more subtle than this, and will take a lot longer to manifest.
posted by Edgewise at 4:00 AM on July 5, 2014 [27 favorites]


Jimbob - I think the Tasmanian legal poppy industry is a better analogy, and one on which the state is reliant. How can people justify that while seriously arguing about the dangers of recreational pot use? Stupid.
posted by goo at 4:02 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Per the spreadsheet, crime is up, led in part by a > 500% increase is disorderly conduct.
posted by jpe at 4:14 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I would be seriously interested in drunkenness related crimes, DUI, assault or murder with alcohol as a causative factor. It may be people have just shifted over in drug choices (for the better).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:42 AM on July 5, 2014


It may be people have just shifted over in drug choices (for the better).

My guess is that it will take years for those sort of patterns to change, but I think it may happen. While cannabis probably hasn't been difficult to purchase illegally in Colorado for some time, anecdota says that many people are purchasing it now for the first time because of legalization.
posted by cell divide at 4:59 AM on July 5, 2014


It'd be more credible to argue, based on those statistics, that the naysayers were right: apart from that insignificant drop in murders, crime has increased pretty much across the board.
posted by Flashman at 5:08 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also of note, the stoned driving epidemic people were afraid of doesn't appear to have happened...
posted by unru at 5:11 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


We actually don't know if crime has increased. What I see is an increase in reported offenses in several categories. I can think of more than one reason for this, and a couple of them are cheery.

1) There are a lot of cops who aren't looking for weed anymore - do we expect them to sit at home and do nothing? Of course not - they've been retasked to other duties, which is one of the big benefits of legalization. So, yeah, they're going to respond to other crimes more. That's their job. Cool.

2) There are a lot of ADA's who aren't preparing for weed cases anymore. Do they get laid off? Nope. The court system becomes far more responsive to other social ills. Excellent.
posted by Mogur at 5:27 AM on July 5, 2014 [31 favorites]


Yes, but to say, generally, that "crime has plummeted", which the piece does. Not so much.

As much as I hate it when opponents of common sense lie about data to make their point, it drives even more around the bend when supporters of something I support do the same thing.
posted by dry white toast at 5:33 AM on July 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


I imagine in a few years folks will stop complaining about Colorado legalizing marijuana and start complaining about how heavily Colorado is taxing marijuana.

In Washington, I have heard people in the same breath argue both that legalization is bad and that the taxes are too high. It makes sense to them, at least.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 AM on July 5, 2014


There's something weird with those statistics. What could account for the 700% increase in Liquor Law/Drunkenness related crimes over the last year? It certainly doesn't seem like people are switching to weed over booze.
posted by 256 at 5:37 AM on July 5, 2014


What could account for the 700% increase in Liquor Law/Drunkenness related crimes over the last year? It certainly doesn't seem like people are switching to weed over booze.

A sudden surplus of cops who don't have anything else to do?
posted by srboisvert at 5:51 AM on July 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


> if you look at the spreadsheet for Denver crime statistics that the article links to

Thanks for pointing that out - I didn't click on it in the OP and, except for crimes against property, it tells an overall different story. All other categories are on the increase.

What the heck, Policy.Mic.
posted by postcommunism at 5:59 AM on July 5, 2014


"It's complete chaos here," says Dr. Jack Shepard, chief of surgery at St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver. "I've put five college students in body bags since breakfast and more are arriving every minute.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:05 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


What the heck, Policy.Mic.

By 'what the heck' do you mean 'par for the course'? Policy.Mic: not exactly the Washington Post...

It'll be awhile before we know what the consequences of legalization are. I'll be surprised if they're bad, all of them considered...but I guess I wouldn't be flabbergasted...

I do wish we--as a nation--would focus on the personal freedom aspect of the weed discussion instead of the argument about consequences... I think those are the more important considerations, within reason. (And: we don't insist that alcohol pass the consequences test...and a good thing, too...) I also suspect that both sides are simply going to emphasize whichever consequences seem to bolster the position they already hold on the basis of other considerations--and that's what the author of this piece seems to have done.

I'd be better to just wait a couple of years and assess the effects then...but of course journalists (and "journalists") can't/won't do that.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:19 AM on July 5, 2014


I've been watching, in frustration, the debate here in Tasmania over the last few weeks,

I hear you, and feel exactly the same listening to the legislature here in New York debating over medical use.... It's embarrassing. I mean, this is New York for chrissakes, and they pretend like Colorado doesn't even exist. I thought New York invented taxing everything under the sun. I think I have to pay a tax every time I go to the bathroom.

On a side note: over twenty years ago, when I was working as an independent journalist, I interviewed pro-pot activist/lawyer Gatewood Galbraith during his first unsuccessful bid for Governor of Kentucky. No one at the magazine could get through to the guy, so I used a Jim Rockford technique; I called his campaign manager and left a terse message. "What's this about?" he asked. "Oh, he'll know." I replied. Gatewood called me back 5 minutes later.

Anyway, we agreed to do the interview after one of his campaign stops. It was a rally/free concert and the place was packed. Gatewood was late (of course) and the crowd was getting anxious. Finally, he showed up, walked through the room directly to my table. The crowd was going nuts as he shook my hand and said "I gotta do this thing first."

He took the stage and did an hour-long rabble-rousing speech calling for legalization, and during the standing ovation he walked offstage, grabbed me and we proceeded directly to my car outside. Gatewood produced a huge bomber in an American Flag rolling paper and insisted we smoke it immediately. We did, while driving around downtown Louisville, finally ending up at a White Castle to do the interview.

I wish I still had the tape. He had intentionally gotten me totally blotto, and while I was stumbling over my prepared questions he dominated the entire interview. His platform was that we should legalize in Kentucky and turn the state into a kind of Las Vegas/Amsterdam tourist destination, and tax the ever-loving hell out of it. It made perfect sense. Marijuana was already one of Kentucky's biggest cash crops, and to Gatewood, it seemed we were just leaving money sitting on the table.

He had vision, I'll give him that. Gatewood passed away in 2012, but I often wonder what he would have thought about Colorado. Would he have been frustrated to see someone else do what he had been pushing for decades, or relieved that someone had finally made his dream come true? I suspect both, but I hope it would've been more of the latter.
posted by valkane at 6:20 AM on July 5, 2014 [28 favorites]


"It's complete chaos here," says Dr. Jack Shepard, chief of surgery at St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver. "I've put five college students in body bags since breakfast and more are arriving every minute.

Um, you do know that's from The Daily Currant, right? Ah, even Onion knockoffs are spoofing people now...
posted by redbeard at 6:23 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I must have been high.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:30 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I imagine in a few years folks will stop complaining about Colorado legalizing marijuana and start complaining about how heavily Colorado is taxing marijuana.

It's already happened. Coloradans passed the ridiculously high tax on weed by a pretty hefty margin, but hundreds of thousands of people voted against it.

Also, contra the mic article, this was the headline for the lead editorial I read in today's Denver Post while drinking a cup of Ethiopian stimulant: A fading promise of pot revenues. To sum up: it's ridiculously easy (as everyone knows) to get a medical marijuana card, and you don't have to pay the exorbitant tax, so nobody is making the switch from medical to recreational pot. (Big surprise, huh?)
posted by kozad at 6:48 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


And the same applies to Seattle. The recreational vendors are also much more tightly controlled. Even leaving aside the taxes, it sounds like it will be a pain in the ass to get to a recreational store, while you can get your MMJ delivered or find it in one of many convenient locations.
posted by wotsac at 7:21 AM on July 5, 2014


The article says there's not enough data to attribute the drop in murders to legalization. It's more a response to those who predicted that violent crimes would rise after legalization. That was a major argument people were making, believe it or not. I distinctly remember one scenario in which there were going to be widespread violent home invasions from armed thugs coming to steal people's pot.

And murders are generally going to be easier to track than less definitive crimes. That is, other violent crimes are more susceptible to perceptions and available resources, so a change in assault or rape or disorderly conduct cases is at least as likely to be attributable to the workload and attitudes of the police. Murder's harder to sweep under the rug.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:51 AM on July 5, 2014


I'll probably be murdered by the vengeful wraiths of my former stats professors for saying this, but I wonder how much previously unreported crimes are down? My roommate for much of my college years was a drug dealer, primarily of weed with the occasional bit of hallucinogens (i.e., nothing "heavy"). He started doing it so he could smoke for free but, good businessman that he is (currently has a fancy-suit corporate job), he built his business up to the point where it paid tuition, rent, etc. If it had been legal to franchise at that point, I have no doubt he would have.

Yet, unlike an legal small business, he had no recourse when people stole from him. If he found that some of his stash was missing, or really if anything in the house went missing, it's not like he could call the cops and report a theft. He mostly dealt with known and trusted people, but there would always be the occasional sketchy friend they brought along. What could he do except tell them they were no longer welcome?

The inherent problem of running an illegal business really became clear when his long time source/growers, a couple of aging hippies, decided to rip him off. It was a larger than usual buy (several thousand dollars worth) that was, in true dramatic fashion, to be my roommate's final score before leaving the business. He was graduating and and going into the fancy-suit world; no need to risk that for a side business.

He'd bought from these guys before with no incident. When he showed up at the arranged spot though, one of them pulled a gun on him, the other slashed his tires, and then they left with the weed and the money. My friend was left with a quandary. What could he do in this situation? That was his rent money, his tuition, his saving; should he buy a gun and track them down vigilante style? That was when it became real to me how illegal drugs end up causing crime. Working outside the law, what recourse do you have? This is how gangs get started.

So yeah, I'd like to think that increases in "simple assault" and "intimidation" are a result of people who otherwise would have had to bear that silently, or seek their own manner of recourse, now feeling comfortable reporting that the legal authorities. It's still way to early to tell the actually effects from legalization, but I do know that it means fewer people are going to be sitting around contemplating whether they need to start carrying a gun.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:02 AM on July 5, 2014 [30 favorites]


Jimbob - I think the Tasmanian legal poppy industry is a better analogy, and one on which the state is reliant.

Well the poppy industry is interesting - firstly, it has killed people. Over the last few years, a number of locals and tourists have died after attempting to make "Poppy Tea". I'd love to see evidence that any kind of cannabis industry could ever kill anyone.

Secondly, the state...Agriculture Minister, I think it was? Claimed that medicinal cannabis crops would somehow harm the poppy industry. I don't know how the hell that is supposed to work - and it seems others agree, since the agriculture minister's father, who is a poppy grower, came out in the media today saying he didn't see a problem at all.

Anyway, me droning on about Tasmania is probably a derail. I'm just a little frustrated with living in a country where politicians still think recreational use of cannabis is some kind of "third-rail" of policy. I haven't smoked pot in 7 years, and I haven't drunk alcohol in 3, but it gives me the shits, and I'm glad to see states like Colorado are approaching the issue with some kind of sense.
posted by Jimbob at 8:29 AM on July 5, 2014


Some caution is warranted in claiming anything yet about the decline in crime being due to cannabis legalization. Crime has been falling everywhere for a while. Plus, those crime statistics are typically quite noisy. I think it's more likely that cannabis legalization had no effect on crime than that it reduced it by 50%. Notice in the top row of linked pdf above that this is a reference to six-month homicide counts. Last year it was 19, now it's 11. It's far more likely that that's noise than it is that there were 8 fewer homicides because marijuana was legalized. It's possible, but no one should draw any conclusions from this experiment yet.
posted by scunning at 9:24 AM on July 5, 2014


Ironically, the data they're using to report a decline in crime shows an increase in crime. Many crime categories rose, for instance. For example, there were 1,212 simple assaults in 2013 and 1,790 in 2014. Crimes against persons rose from 2,875 in 2013 to 3,565 in 2014. Total crimes rose from 17,450 in 2013 to 19,234 in 2014.

I don't fully understand how even an over-excited journalist is drawing the conclusion that "six months after legalizing marijuana, Denver crime rates have suddenly fallen". What data is showing that? Or is it just the homicide category? That seems the most noisy one of them all.
posted by scunning at 9:31 AM on July 5, 2014


All well and good, but how is the snack industry faring?
posted by jonmc at 10:11 AM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you remove the need for covert activities, you remove the paranoia and the need for extraordinary precaution. Yeah, everybody probably just mellowed out in a non-antagonistic way. What a concept.

Sadly, I don't think this is true. I think MJ causes anxiety ('paranoia') in some people that's orthogonal to its legality. I came to this conclusion while at a coffee shop in Amsterdam talking to an American. Perhaps it was just habit, but holy shit were they paranoid - wouldn't discuss stupid shit because they were afraid I'd figure out who they were and report them to authorities in the US. Seriously. I was like: 'dude, you spent thousands of dollars and your vacation time to fly a quarter way around the world to smoke some dope legally; you can leave your paranoia back in the country where this stuff is illegal'.

And the same applies to Seattle. The recreational vendors are also much more tightly controlled. Even leaving aside the taxes, it sounds like it will be a pain in the ass to get to a recreational store, while you can get your MMJ delivered or find it in one of many convenient locations.

Probably easier than getting hard alcohol was in seattle a decade ago though. The only place you could buy hard booze was the state run liquor stores. They seemed to generally close on sundays, be open not past 6pm weekdays days, and 5pm on Saturdays (if memory serves). I swore to god the only people they wanted to sell to were those who didn't have a job.
posted by el io at 11:11 AM on July 5, 2014


I'd love to see evidence that any kind of cannabis industry could ever kill anyone.

There's been problems with edibles, and the dose being very high/not understood by the partaker/weird loophole in the law saying how much you can buy, when compared to just buying some bud.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/two-denver-deaths-tied-to-recreational-marijuana-use/

It's sad. Kinda destroys the myth of, "take too much pot? You'll just go to sleep". But honestly, this isn't smoking it, this is taking a very potent tincture derived from it.
posted by alex_skazat at 11:17 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't fully understand how even an over-excited journalist is drawing the conclusion that "six months after legalizing marijuana, Denver crime rates have suddenly fallen".

Probably because the headline should be "Six months after legalizing marijuana, Denver journalists' abilities to analyze statistics junked."
posted by mistersquid at 11:47 AM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


(Six seconds after hitting "Post Comment", undercaffeinated MeFite sees misplaced modifier.)
posted by mistersquid at 11:48 AM on July 5, 2014


Ahh, the joys of reading headlines. So not true, so like many substances MMJ can be abused, it can create havoc in lives, and it is not harm free in all circumstances which is why a big chunk of that tax money is going to prevention and remediation.

And how do I know: work with kids, see the research on the effect on brain activity, old enough to know that everything comes with plus/minus consequences including overdoses. Live well but not stupid.
posted by OhSusannah at 11:47 AM on July 6, 2014


After watching coverage about Washington state legally selling marijuana today, I had a minor moment of personal enlightenment:

Yes, people who didn't try (or abuse) weed before will have the opportunity to do so, but by being a legal substance, we can address it like we do with alcohol - it was already being abused, but instead of trying to get kids to abstain, we can teach them how to use well, what to look for when it comes to over-doing it (overdosing, short or long-term misuse and abuse, etc). And there are thousands of people who will never go to jail for a minor drug possession or other related non-violent crimes, freeing police to focus their efforts elsewhere, freeing courts from dealing with these drug-related cases, freeing prisons to handle more serious offenders (for varying qualifications of "more severe").

Even for people who are worried for an increased number of people who can more easily abuse the drug, there are so many more whose lives will be better off, because casual use of marijuana will be legal.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:16 PM on July 8, 2014


From Redbeard's link:

"We told everyone this would happen," says Peter Swindon, president and CEO of local brewer MolsonCoors. "Marijuana is a deadly hardcore drug that causes addiction and destroys lives."

This killed me. Daily Currant wins forever.
posted by SassHat at 11:22 AM on July 10, 2014


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