Public Health Effects of Medical Marijuana Legalization in Colorado

Published:September 15, 2015DOI:


      The public health consequences of the legalization of marijuana, whether for medical or recreational purposes, are little understood. Despite this, numerous states are considering medical or recreational legalization. In the context of abrupt changes in marijuana policy in 2009 in Colorado, the authors sought to investigate corresponding changes in marijuana-related public health indicators.


      This observational, ecologic study used an interrupted time-series analysis to identify changes in public health indicators potentially related to broad policy changes that occurred in 2009. This was records-based research from the state of Colorado and Denver metropolitan area. Data were collected to examine frequency and trends of marijuana-related outcomes in hospital discharges and poison center calls between time periods before and after 2009 and adjusted for population. Analyses were conducted in 2014.


      Hospital discharges coded as marijuana-dependent increased 1% per month (95% CI=0.8, 1.1, p<0.001) from 2007 to 2013. A change in trend was detected in poison center calls mentioning marijuana (p<0.01). After 2009, poison center calls increased 0.8% per month (95% CI=0.2, 1.4, p<0.01). Poison center calls also increased 56% (95% CI=49%, 63%, p<0.001) in the period following the policy change. Further, there was one hospital discharge coded as dependent for every 3,159 (95% CI=2465, 3853, p<0.001) medical marijuana registrant applications.


      The abrupt nature of these changes suggests public health effects related to broad policy changes associated with marijuana. This report may be used to assist in policy decisions regarding the short-term public health effects of marijuana legalization.
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      Linked Article

      • Marijuana Legalization and Increased Seeking of Care
        American Journal of Preventive MedicineVol. 52Issue 3
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          We appreciated the recent study by Davis et al., “Public Health Effects of Medical Marijuana Legalization in Colorado.”1 The study found increases in Medical Marijuana Registry (MMR) applicants, hospital discharges, and poison center calls, and decreases in marijuana-related arrests and treatment entries, and focused on “deleterious public health effects” in the interpretation of these results. However, a methodologic choice may have affected the interpretation of results.
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