A new study maintains that Colorado has the third-most-serious drug problem of any state, with the highest percentage of both teenage and adult drug users in the country. However, the findings contradict a recent Colorado report showing that teen marijuana use here is actually below the national average. And the adult use statistics don’t take into account the fact that cannabis consumption is legal for those over age 21 in Colorado.
“Drug Use by State: 2017’s Problem Areas,” created by WalletHub, uses fifteen metrics grouped under three main categories: Drug Use & Addiction (weighted to 50 percent), Law Enforcement, and Drug Health Issues & Rehab (25 percent each). But as we discovered during an interview with WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez on view below, the study doesn’t differentiate between substances. All drugs other than prescription opioids are grouped together — meaning that marijuana is essentially treated as equal to heroin and other highly addictive substances.
Moreover, teenage pot use is down in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which points out that “among adolescents, past month marijuana use is lower than past month alcohol use” — an “encouraging trend,” in the agency’s view.
In addition, a 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey by the state showed that 21.2 percent of Colorado high-schoolers used marijuana, as compared to 21.7 percent nationwide. Moreover, the survey found that use actually declined from 2009 — prior to the legalization of recreational cannabis — to 2015, the year after the law went into effect. In 2009, 43 percent of Colorado high-schoolers said they’d tried marijuana at least once, and 25 percent had done so during the previous month; those numbers in 2015 were 38 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
That same year, CDPHE findings showed that 13.6 percent of adults identified themselves as cannabis users — a number that was significantly higher than the national average at the time. As such, the substance more than likely had an oversizes impact on the results as a whole, since WalletHub’s study treats marijuana generically as an “illicit” drug (using the federal rather than the state standard).
In other words, the severity of Colorado’s drug problem will differ depending on how you feel about marijuana.
Here’s our Q&A with analyst Gonzalez, conducted via e-mail. Then, on page two of this post, we’ve included the complete WalletHub rankings by state, as well as an interactive map.