BREAKING NEWS : Allen County coroner identifies cyclist killed after being hit by car on Lima Road Full Story
BREAKING NEWS : Allen County coroner identifies downtown Washington Boulevard crash victim Full Story
BREAKING NEWS : Allen County coroner identifies Hawthorn Suites shooting victim Full Story

Will Colorado ban marijuana again?

CNN's Scott McLean speaks with a Colorado sheriff who says the state's legalization of marijuana is fueling a rise in crime. But some law enforcement leaders say there is not enough data to support the claim.

Posted: Apr 22, 2018 10:32 AM
Updated: Apr 22, 2018 10:45 AM

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has two facts in front of him: Since 2014 crime has been rising in his state, outstripping the national trend, and since 2014 recreational use of marijuana has been legal.

Whether the two are connected is hotly debated -- and if they are, then what? For the first time publicly, Hickenlooper told CNN he doesn't rule out recriminalizing recreational marijuana, even if that's a long shot.

"Trust me, if the data was coming back and we saw spikes in violent crime, we saw spikes in overall crime, there would be a lot of people looking for that bottle and figuring out how we get the genie back in," he said. "It doesn't seem likely to me, but I'm not ruling it out."

Data is now coming back. In 2016, the state's crime rate was up 5% compared with 2013, while the national trend was downward. Violent crime went up 12.5% in the same time while the national increase was less than 5%. But Hickenlooper isn't yet ready to pin the blame on the legalization of weed -- a step he opposed but has since embraced as the choice of his constituents.

"This is one of the great social experiments of the last 100 years. We have to all keep an open mind," he said.

Conflicting interpretations

Denver, the state's capital and largest city, is home to the lion's share of Colorado's recreational marijuana dispensaries. It has more than 170 of them -- more than the number of Starbucks, McDonald's and 7-Eleven stores combined.

Since 2013, Denver has seen its crime spike, too; the 2016 crime rate increased 4%, with violent crime up 9%.

The Denver Police say the data is inconclusive.

"[Property crime is] the biggest driver of our [overall] crime, and of our increases. So, can you attribute that to marijuana? I don't think you can," said Denver Police Commander James Henning. "The data isn't there."

The force has added more officers to police the illicit weed market that Henning says continues to grow.

But, Henning said, there is plenty of gray area when it comes to cataloging crimes that may or may not have a nexus to marijuana -- legal or otherwise.

"If a marijuana dispensary is burglarized, is that because it was a marijuana dispensary or ... if it were a liquor store or a stereo store would it have been burglarized as well?" he said. "The data is so tough to nail down and say this crime happened because of marijuana. It's just almost impossible to do that."

Two years ago, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock blamed legal marijuana for drawing people to a pedestrian mall downtown where violent incidents were happening. In one case, a transient swung a PVC pipe at people nearby. Police did not classify that crime as "marijuana related."

In Fort Collins, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith is one of the few law enforcement leaders in the state to publicly blame legal marijuana for rising crime.

He doesn't claim that smoking a joint makes you more likely to rob a bank. The connection between cannabis and crime is often indirect -- and not captured by official statistics, he said.

"It's not a causal thing," he said, arguing instead that legal weed is attracting a growing seasonal transient population -- a population that he said is more likely to commit crime. "Every third inmate in the [Larimer County] jail is a transient and you go by and ask them, and they'll tell you, we came here because of marijuana."

Smith -- a longtime opponent of legal weed who once led a lawsuit against Colorado's legalization -- also said the theory that legalization would end the black market in marijuana has not been borne out.

"That was one of the big promises [of legalizing marijuana] that if you regulated it, you would get rid of the problems that had traditionally been there with the illegal grows, but it's been really the opposite," he said.

Mason Tvert, a well-known pro-marijuana activist, sees things very differently, arguing it's irresponsible to even suggest there's a connection between rising crime and marijuana without hard evidence to prove the link.

"The only story here is that the evidence does not show marijuana or marijuana legalization are to blame for this increase in crime," he said.

Did marijuana bring a killer to town?

Smith's frustration reached a boiling point last summer when the body of 23-year-old Helena Hoffmann was pulled out of a lake in Fort Collins. Police said she had been raped and murdered walking home from an overnight shift at a nearby McDonald's. The man convicted in the case, Jeffrey Etheridge, is just the kind of person Smith is warning against.

Etheridge is a registered sex offender from Kentucky. From jail, he told CNN that he moved to Colorado in 2017 with his then-girlfriend because her brother worked at a marijuana dispensary. At the time of his arrest he was a transient, living out of his car in the park where Hoffmann's body was found. Etheridge pleaded guilty but now says he is innocent.

Hoffmann left behind a then-4-year-old daughter named Mary, now being raised by her father, Zach Denton.

"I remember Mary looking at us, and she goes 'did my mom die?' and that's really when it set in," Denton said about the day he broke the news of Hoffmann's death to his daughter.

He said Hoffmann would not want all homeless or transient people blamed for problems caused by just a few.

Denton thinks the bigger issue is that Etheridge, an out-of-state sex offender, was able to register his overnight address as Fort Collins' City Park, a place that is supposed to close at 11 p.m. and attracts children who come to play and swim.

From a bench in City Park built in remembrance of Hoffmann, Denton said there's a lot that could change: sex offender laws, transient laws, or even the rules on park access at night. Whatever does change, he said, will be Hoffmann's legacy.

In downtown Denver, the large -- and growing -- homeless population often gathers in Civic Center Park, next to the Statehouse.

The state's rate of homelessness rose 5.3% from 2013 to 2017, according to data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nationally, the rate of homelessness dropped 8.6% in the same period.

Tom Luehrs, the executive director of Denver's St. Francis Center homeless shelter, said he sees many people who came to Colorado hoping to work in the legal marijuana industry, only to find out it's not that easy. But he said there is another, smaller, group of seasonal transient people who seem to prefer life on the streets to an apartment and a job. While their presence predates marijuana legalization, it has increased since it became legal, he said.

"A lot of the people that we work with are wanting to get jobs, wanting to get housing, wanting to move out of homelessness, so then you have this other group that's kind of even belligerent and certainly not engaging and sometimes just very disrespectful. They don't care," Luehrs said.

Hickenlooper is skeptical that legal weed is to blame for increasing the homeless population.

"We're trying to get data on it. That's a difficult one to measure," he said.

The need for real data

The lack of solid evidence one way or another weighs on Hickenlooper, who can point to other things that have changed since legalization on January 1, 2014 -- like an economic hot streak -- without being able to say exactly what impact that has had.

"When you have that kind of [economic] growth, you attract all kinds of people and a lot of them are unsavory. Do they come for the marijuana? Or do they come because there are so many young people coming, there's a lot of money in the community and this is a great place to try and rob somebody? Again, more data. More data is the only way we're going to figure this out," he said.

That was his advice to California lawmakers last year ahead of that state's legalization of recreational marijuana.

"Spend the money to get a good baseline so that you can help guide the discussions and the real facts around this huge transformational shift in the way we address marijuana," he told CNN, explaining his message to lawmakers.

Case in point: Colorado's traffic fatalities where the driver tested positive for the active form of THC known as Delta 9 more than quadrupled from 18 in 2013 to 77 in 2016, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. But those numbers are likely very misleading, because, according to Hickenlooper, the state didn't often test for marijuana in fatal crashes prior to legalization.

"That's not real data," he said. "We didn't use to measure it and now we're trying to measure something, so of course we see a lot more."

If and when the data does come in -- from Colorado, from California and elsewhere -- it will be studied intensively. And if the haze clears and there are strong signals that state legalization has hurt the community, Hickenlooper said Colorado's legal marijuana experiment may have to end.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 595436

Reported Deaths: 9466
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion822851311
Lake44626670
Allen32165543
Hamilton28684308
St. Joseph26917378
Elkhart24173343
Vanderburgh18856236
Tippecanoe17638125
Johnson14687289
Porter14513163
Hendricks14010242
Madison10715216
Vigo10540177
Clark10349135
Monroe9189108
Delaware8956134
LaPorte8867158
Howard7982140
Kosciusko791380
Warrick652994
Hancock646999
Bartholomew631096
Floyd6205107
Wayne5984159
Grant5874110
Dubois547175
Boone538867
Morgan524192
Henry497764
Marshall495384
Cass475362
Dearborn464545
Noble463157
Jackson417846
Shelby405680
Lawrence383876
Clinton367840
Gibson360058
DeKalb339163
Montgomery338152
Harrison333643
Knox329839
Miami312743
Steuben309343
Adams297435
Whitley297225
Wabash294947
Ripley294345
Putnam288047
Jasper285234
Huntington284959
White269138
Daviess263073
Jefferson253838
Decatur243482
Fayette242948
Greene237062
Posey234427
Wells231347
LaGrange225061
Clay219032
Scott218538
Randolph209845
Jennings193935
Sullivan189632
Spencer184319
Fountain180527
Washington179321
Starke172743
Jay163922
Fulton161130
Owen161137
Carroll153915
Orange152933
Rush151618
Perry149327
Vermillion145833
Franklin144433
Tipton129232
Parke12918
Pike114326
Blackford109222
Pulaski95337
Newton89821
Brown85931
Benton85310
Crawford7719
Martin70713
Warren6637
Switzerland6235
Union6146
Ohio4727
Unassigned0374

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 836049

Reported Deaths: 10323
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin98533705
Cuyahoga831801065
Hamilton61931441
Montgomery42028399
Summit33849736
Lucas30524605
Butler30003228
Stark25093419
Warren19083140
Lorain18418212
Mahoning16931337
Lake15592136
Clermont15335105
Delaware1403077
Licking12819132
Trumbull12515307
Fairfield1232480
Greene11729135
Medina11286165
Clark10672264
Wood10081156
Allen9639126
Portage9006107
Miami895273
Richland8910116
Marion7377113
Tuscarawas7177174
Columbiana7164124
Pickaway710350
Wayne6855165
Muskingum678241
Erie5976118
Hancock542990
Ross535287
Scioto527063
Geauga491755
Darke459489
Ashtabula443172
Lawrence439353
Union437028
Sandusky427462
Mercer427387
Seneca417357
Auglaize416259
Huron416138
Shelby413521
Jefferson409066
Belmont403740
Washington375940
Putnam367872
Athens36759
Madison343429
Knox340122
Ashland336838
Fulton328543
Defiance322578
Crawford316371
Preble313836
Brown298819
Logan296529
Ottawa283934
Clinton281243
Williams272866
Highland266018
Jackson259043
Guernsey245325
Champaign244427
Fayette229729
Morrow22574
Perry223318
Holmes220362
Henry213547
Hardin206433
Coshocton199620
Van Wert198744
Wyandot192549
Gallia192126
Adams167415
Pike167417
Hocking165523
Carroll151316
Paulding141121
Noble118740
Meigs105021
Monroe97229
Harrison8598
Morgan79728
Vinton67613
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 17°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
25° wxIcon
Hi: 27° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 12°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 19°
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 17°
Lima
Partly Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 18°
Sunshine, Warmer Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events