The war on drugs is a war entrenched in crime of all kinds. From violent crimes related to hard drugs, to petty possession of marijuana, there are countless drug-related offenses to consider. Some drugs, such as alcohol, have strong associations with violent crimes. Others, like marijuana, have laws that are enforced disproportionately to the actual danger of associated crimes. According to a 2014 report by the FBI, for instance, one person is arrested for marijuana possession every 51 seconds. With so many of these arrests for relatively harmless offenses, people have been wondering: when marijuana is legalized for recreational use, what will the war on pot look like?
Crime rates fall across the board in Washington
After one year of retail sales of recreational marijuana in Washington, the state has seen myriad benefits. Apart from huge financial gains from taxation and no increase in youth marijuana use, rates of crime fell across the board.
Those disproportionally common possession arrests mentioned earlier? They’re way down. For adults over 21 who now have access to legal recreational marijuana, low-level arrests decreased by a whopping 98%. Even looking at all marijuana-related offenses, convictions are down 81%. Not only are livelihoods being spared, but precious police resources can be used elsewhere, where they’re needed most.
It’s not just low-level marijuana offenses that are way down in Washington. Violent crime rates decreased noticeably. Between 2011 and 2014, violent crime declined by 10% statewide, and murders specifically were 13% fewer. Even traffic fatalities stayed stable; legalization didn’t necessarily cause more deaths due to car accidents.
Denver experienced similar effects after legalization
It wasn’t just Washington that experienced lower crime rates. After recreational use became legal in Colorado, MSNBC reported on crime statistics out of Denver, specifically for the first quarter of 2014. Rates of violent crime were 6.9% lower than the first quarter of the previous year; rates of property crimes dropped 11.1%.
Could legalization actually lead to less crime? Some think yes
Recently, The Washington Post reported on a study of the journal PLOS One. The University of Texas, Dallas researchers of the study were cautious to state one infallible explanation for these encouraging findings, but they did cite a few possibilities. One such theory claims that legalization discourages violent crime by reducing alcohol use.
Many people will chose to be intoxicated; it’s a matter of what substances they have access to, and the effects of responsible use of those substances. For years, alcohol has been the only legal and freely available intoxicant in the United States. Given alcohol’s correlation with violent crime, it could very well be the case that more marijuana users will lead to fewer alcohol users, ultimately resulting in less violent crime.