Background: In 2009, policy changes were accompanied by a rapid increase in the number of medical marijuana cardholders in Colorado. Little published epidemiological work has tracked changes in the state around this time.
Methods: Using the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, we tested for temporal changes in marijuana attitudes and marijuana-use-related outcomes in Colorado (2003-11) and differences within-year between Colorado and thirty-four non-medical-marijuana states (NMMS). Using regression analyses, we further tested whether patterns seen in Colorado prior to (2006-8) and during (2009-11) marijuana commercialization differed from patterns in NMMS while controlling for demographics.
Results: Within Colorado those reporting "great-risk" to using marijuana 1-2 times/week dropped significantly in all age groups studied between 2007-8 and 2010-11 (e.g. from 45% to 31% among those 26 years and older; p=0.0006). By 2010-11 past-year marijuana abuse/dependence had become more prevalent in Colorado for 12-17 year olds (5% in Colorado, 3% in NMMS; p=0.03) and 18-25 year olds (9% vs. 5%; p=0.02). Regressions demonstrated significantly greater reductions in perceived risk (12-17 year olds, p=0.005; those 26 years and older, p=0.01), and trend for difference in changes in availability among those 26 years and older and marijuana abuse/dependence among 12-17 year olds in Colorado compared to NMMS in more recent years (2009-11 vs. 2006-8).
Conclusions: Our results show that commercialization of marijuana in Colorado has been associated with lower risk perception. Evidence is suggestive for marijuana abuse/dependence. Analyses including subsequent years 2012+ once available, will help determine whether such changes represent momentary vs. sustained effects.
Keywords: Cannabis; Decriminalization; Legalized marijuana; Marijuana policy; Medical marijuana.
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