Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, and how Crime has been Affected

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Since 2012, ten states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. Since then there have been many studies done regarding the relationship between crime and marijuana use and its effects on crime. For purposes of this review, I chose current articles that would be able to give more accurate information as to my topic which is to discuss the legalization of recreational marijuana since 2012, and how crime has been affected in those states. Such articles focused on marijuana outlets in neighborhood characteristics, the impacts on law enforcement, and the crime statistics.

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Sales of Recreational Marijuana – Outlets in Colorado/Washington

Colorado was the first state to start selling marijuana at outlets on January 1, 2014, for recreational purposes. According to Makin et al. (2018), “As commonplace as marijuana sales have become, legalization in both states is strictly limited.” Also, research has shown that there is a correlation between neighborhood characteristics and the locations of such outlets. One research article by (Shi, Meseck, & Jankowska, 2016,) concluded that outlets were in neighborhoods with higher crime rates. (page 5) Some of the characteristics that these neighborhoods had in common were racial and ethnic minority populations, lower household income, and higher crime rates. Another interesting factor is that a lot of the marijuana outlets rely primarily on cash, due to not a lot of banking options. As stated by (Freisthler, Gaidu, Tam, Ponicki & Gruenewald, 2017), “Current concerns about links between marijuana sales and crimes are motivated by community and police concerns that this largely – cash market with high demand will increase criminal activity.” (page 3) It is also noted that outlets are often located in and adjacent to places that support cash economics. So, this can potentially can lead to more crime in these areas or adjacent to the areas that sale marijuana for recreational purposes.

Impact of Law Enforcement

Since 2012, arrests for marijuana possession has decreased in Washington and Colorado. With this major policy change it has affected police organizations, but how? One way the police organizations have been affected is in the clearance rates and how they have been influenced. Clearance rates measure police performance. It is the number of crimes solved and number of crimes recorded by police performance. In Makin, et al. (2018) they focus their research on organizational factors in determining how police organizations would benefit and the clearance rates for violent and property crime. Examples of organizational factors would be agency size, number of detectives, depth of training, and management style. According to Makin et al. (2018), “Regarding workload, scholars have reasoned that reduced workload would increase crime clearance rates because the police have more time and resources to be used in solving open cases.” (page 7) Data compiled showed clearance rates shifted upward for violent crime both in Colorado and Washington. Also stated by Makin et al (2018) “Prior to legalization, clearance rates for violent and property crimes were declining in both Colorado and Washington. However, after legalization, the slope of the clearance rate trends shifted upward for violent crime and both of the treatment states.” (p. 11) With these clearance rates up, this would.

Relationship Between Marijuana and Crime

According to a recent study by (Reed, Hilkey, Thomas & English, 2018), states “Arrest rates for violent crime, property crime, and weapons increased between 2012 and 2017.” (p. 160) Offense rates for property stayed stable during this period. As stated in Makin et al. (2018), “the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data shows a decrease in violent crime (1%) and property crime (8%) in the City and County of Denver in 2014 when compared to 2013.” (p. 130) Interesting to note that in these two studies we have arrest rates up, but crime down. So, what is the correlation between the higher arrest rates for violent crime and the decrease in violent crime. What factors would cause this to happen? According to Makin et al. (2018), “However, it is important to recognize that even in states where marijuana is recreationally legalized, arrests do continue due to restrictions…and, of course, possession of sale/manufacturing of other drugs.” (p. 11) So, it seems that other variables are influencing these statistics, and legalization of marijuana is not the main reason. As noted in this study by (Dragone, Prarolo, Vanin, & Zanella, 2018) “cannabis use determines a variety of psychoactive effects, the most commonly reported one being a state of relaxation and euphoria (Hall et al., 2001; Green et al. (2003)).” (p. 11) Whereby, increased consumption of marijuana reduces the likelihood of engaging in violent activities. Also, is marijuana a substitute for violence-inducting substances (i.e. alcohol, cocaine). According to (Dragone, et al., 2018), “Studies generally find that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes (Anderson and Rees, 2014; Crost and Guerrero, 2012; DiNardo and Lemieux, 2001; Kelly and Rasul, 2014).” (p. 11) According to (Dragone, et al., 2018), “The FBI imputes crime counts to nonreporting agencies when building estimates at the state and national levels” (p. 4). According to (Maier, Mannes & Koppenhofer, 2017), “The relationship between legalization and crime can be explained through Goldstein’s (1985) tripartite conceptual framework, which suggests three ways drugs and crime are linked: the psychopharmacological, the economically compulsive, and the systematic.” (p. 128) Of the three frameworks, systematic violence shows the most connection between marijuana and crime (i.e. drug dealing). Drug dealing has a potential for a murder and other violence. Also, (Maier, et al. 2017) stated that “Colorado and Washington’s crime rates for property and violent crimes have decreased from 2010 and 2014.” (p. 133) Many interesting studies have evolved to show the relationship between marijuana and crime.


In summary, since 2012 the legalization of marijuana has affected crime in states such as Colorado and Washington. These states show a greater impact than other states due to the sales of recreational marijuana. Based on the emerging sales outlets in neighborhoods that have similar characteristics as state above there is more crime near or adjacent to these outlets. Also, that law enforcement has definitely been impacted in a good way, based on clearance rates increasing, which means the police force is concentrating their job in solving higher-level crimes, and not just marijuana arrests. So, that shows a good trend towards effecting crime in a good way. Also, reviewing articles regarding crime and legalization I noticed a trend that there may be a discrepancy in how crime statistics are being compiled. Based on research above, certain studies use different variables to show how crime is being affected. There is still is a market for heavier drugs (cocaine, etc.), which I think can skew the results. But, the recreational legalization has impacted crime in that there is no need for arrests for possession of marijuana, and that potentially leads to lower crime rates. I think there is always going to some type of crime related to marijuana. As research becomes more available, the true effects of how the legalization of recreational marijuana will impact crime?

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Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, and How Crime Has Been Affected. (2022, Sep 29). Retrieved December 3, 2022 , from

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