Criminal marijuana cases in Colorado plunged by 65% in 2013

I’m very disappointed in the New York Times. It seems the editors assigned a reporter to create a story with the catchy headline, “After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High.”   Despite the reporter’s failure to find any solid evidence to justify the title, it was nonetheless retained as click-bait.

The “downside” highlights are a only a very small handful anecdotal stories that may or may not have happened regardless of Amendment 64 being approve. What is missing is any hard statistical data showing significant negative consequences. The reporter, Jack Healy, even admits as such half way through the story:

Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data. Because of the lag in reporting many health statistics, it may take years to know legal marijuana’s effect — if any — on teenage drug use, school expulsions or the number of fatal car crashes.

In fact every single actual statistic cited in the article appears arguably positive.

  • “It was only in January, for example, that the Colorado State Patrol began tracking the number of people pulled over for driving while stoned. Since then, marijuana-impaired drivers have made up about 1.5 percent of all citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
  • Over all, crime in Denver is down by about 10 percent
  • “Few agree on how much legally purchased marijuana is being secreted out of Colorado. Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas had tallied a 61 percent increase in seizures of marijuana that could be traced to Colorado. But according to the Kansas Highway Patrol, total marijuana seizures fell to 1,090 pounds from 2,790 pounds during the first four months of the year, a 61 percent decline.
  • “Criminal marijuana cases in Colorado plunged by 65 percent in 2013″

Overall, the body of the story is fairer than the bad title and first few paragraphs, but if you can’t currently find any legitimate statistical data showing a “downside” that shouldn’t be the headline. It is misleading and doesn’t help to inform the public which often only scans the news. Anecdotes don’t deserve such outsized credence.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Photo by SLV Native under Creative Commons license