It is often stated by prohibitionist politicians that marijuana legalization leads to an increase in crime, but a recent data analysis by the Stanford Open Policing Project shows that in states where marijuana is legalized, traffic searches by police drop by almost 50%. The study analyzed over 60 million traffic stop records from over 20 states. In the state of Colorado, searches by police, which were often justified by the “smell or suspicion” of marijuana possession, dropped by over 40% during the first year of legalization. In Washington, a more than 50% drop in traffic searches occurred within the first three months of legalization.
Progress Is Being Made, But There Is A Long Way To Go
A drop in traffic searches inevitably leads to a drop in criminal prosecution. While much progress has been made recently, with almost 30 states having legalized marijuana in some form, the issue of over-policing as it relates to marijuana is still rampant. According to the New York Times, “(In 2015) Arrests for possessing small amounts of marijuana exceeded those for all violent crimes.”
So while it is clear that legalization leads to less people being put in prison for marijuana possession, it is also clear that people continue to be arrested for marijuana at alarming rates. In fact, according to the ACLU, while violent crime arrests have dropped by over 30% since 1995, marijuana arrests have increased by at least 10%.
As seen by the results of the Stanford analysis, legalization provides a direct decrease in searches and arrests, yet still, many of the federal and state level laws in the U.S. continue to put people in prison for something that is legal in more than 60% of the country. So long as laws in this country stay stuck in the past, a great number of people will be unnecessarily incarcerated in the present.
Lane is based in Southern California and is a content curator for Medical Marijuana 411. He focuses his research into finding informative stories that can help medical marijuana patients better understand their diverse medicine.