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Police and Marijuana: Legalization’s Impact on Crime

An interesting but unsurprising conclusion was reached by the authors of a recent study in Police Quarterly a few months ago. Analyzing crime clearance rates (arrests and criminal charges filed) from Colorado and Washington from 2010-2015, the authors concluded that there was a “demonstrable and persistent benefit” from cannabis legalization in relation to solving other crimes.

It has long been argued by advocates of cannabis legalization that legalized marijuana would free up police resources to concentrate on other police work. In Colorado and Washington, it would seem it was demonstrably true as burglary and motor vehicle theft clearance rates were drastically increased in those two states. This stands in stark contrast to the national trend of a reduction of clearance rates for all crimes. Essentially, police in Colorado and Washington were drastically better at solving property crimes than police were in other states.

Despite the national mood and poll numbers related to cannabis, police nationwide arrested 600,000 individuals for simple marijuana possession in 2016. That’s more than the arrests for ALL violent crimes in the United States over the same year. What would have happened if states had taken the same steps that Colorado and Washington had taken so many years ago?  Would we have seen a nationwide improvement in arrest rates as we had seen in Washington and Colorado? Would police nationwide be more affective and productive in their police work?

It costs somewhere between $30,000 to $60,000 a year to jail an inmate. With clearance rates for other crimes going down and arrests for marijuana possession increasing in states without cannabis legalization, be thankful that we live in Washington State. Our police can do police work more effectively, and we are not as burdened with jails full of people who did nothing more than possess a simple plant less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.

Hopefully, the results of this study will make their rounds to legalization skeptics. For advocates, the study serves to vindicate the pro-legalization/decriminalization argument. Lastly, we would like to congratulate our Washington State police for their great clearance rates! Thanks for being a model for the rest of the United States and keeping us safe! Awesome job to all Washington Law Enforcement Agencies! Cheers and toke on Dreamers!

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