Crime rates lower after pot legalization but stiff drug penalties remain

Washington is one of two states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. A number of other states have legalized marijuana for medical use, although all marijuana use remains illegal under federal law.

For years, while marijuana users faced drug charges and the prison population swelled, advocates of the War on Drugs panned marijuana as a gateway to more harmful substances. They said that because marijuana supposedly led to more powerful drugs, users would eventually turn to crime to support their dangerous habits. As marijuana legalization began to take hold across the country, critics added that marijuana dispensaries would become crime magnets for those looking to score quick cash and drugs.

In fact, according to a study published on March 26 - the first of its kind on the subject -states that have pursued marijuana legalization appear to have crime rates that have plummeted even further than those in states where all marijuana use continues to be banned. Of course, even with crime rates down and Americans increasingly fed up with the War on Drugs, you could still face arrest considering the possible misperception of a new marijuana-fueled crime wave.

In Washington and other states with legal pot, crime rates have actually declined faster

Overall crime rates have been on a general pattern of decline for years in the United States. But, a closer look at the respective crime rates in states that have legalized any form of marijuana use versus states that have not reveals some interesting information.

In the new study from the University of Texas, which is published in the journal PLOS One, researchers looked at more than 15 years of crime data comparing states that had legalized some form of marijuana use and those that had not, as well as looking at crime rates in states that had legalized marijuana during the study period both before and after legalization.

When controlling for other factors that could have impacted the outcome, including income and education levels, employment rates, poverty rates, age of local populations, urban demographics, incarceration rates, police officers per-capita and beer consumption rates, the researchers found no measurable increase after marijuana legalization in robbery, burglary, larceny, assault, auto theft, rape or murder. In fact, assault and murder rates declined more in states with legal marijuana than in those without it.

Researchers were quick to point out that the apparent effect of marijuana legalization in lowering crime rates could have been a statistical anomaly. But, one logical possibility they suggested is that with readier access to marijuana, many users substitute it for alcohol (which has been linked to domestic violence and other violent crimes through scholarly research).

Contact a Washington defense lawyer if you are facing criminal charges

While recreational use of marijuana is now legal in Washington within the bounds of state law, use or distribution outside those bounds, or use of other types of drugs, can still be harshly punished. A new survey from the Pew Research Center shows that 63 percent of Americans think it is a good thing to move away from mandatory prison sentences for drug crimes and more than two thirds believe treatment rather than incarceration should be the focus for users of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. But, we are not there yet.

If you are facing criminal charges, a strong legal defense could be your only hope of avoiding the inside of a prison cell. Get in touch with a Washington criminal defense attorney today to safeguard your freedom.