Since Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational weed back in 2012, the nation has looked upon them as role models (roll models, really). Some people watch closely because they want legalization to fail: they’re against it and, clearly, the boss of everyone everywhere. Some people want it to prosper: they believe it’s a win win situation for the sick, the well, and the economy. But, regardless of your stance, nearly everyone is curious as to the effect legalization has had on the crime rate.

The Crime Wave in Denver

In Colorado, a lot of recent news has talked about a crime rate out of control. Those against pot use words like “increased significantly” while shaking their fingers in the direction of any dispensary they can see. But, back in reality, it isn’t that linear.

According to the Denver Post, crime is up in Denver since legalization, but pointing that shaking finger at weed isn’t accurate:

In any given year, less than 1 percent of Denver arrests (after legalization) are marijuana-related

And, according to the FBI, the increase in crime is minimal, at 3.5 percent. The National Incident Based Reporting System, on the other hand, claims that crime is up 44 percent. Yet, they have a well-criticized reputation for inflating numbers. And, possibly, exaggerating girth.

Besides, many of the statistics claiming that crime has skyrocketed track back to 2012.denver city skyline Marijuana wasn’t legalized in 2012 until the very end: in November. And, even then, pot stores didn’t open until fourteen months later: the first door to a recreational dispensary unlocked on January 1, 2014.

It’s also worth noting that Denver doesn’t represent all of Colorado. Sure, it’s the state capital and home to the ridiculously awesome Broncos, but, if crime is up in Denver, it doesn’t reflect crime being up statewide. This is important, since legalization is statewide.

But Wait….

The internet is nothing if not fickle: a quick Google search will return one study telling you that wine prevents cancer and another study telling you that it causes it. In other words, there’s not a ton of consistency. And, in regards to crime in Colorado, the WWW is just as WTF.
Per the Independent, crime in Denver is actually down since legalization – way down. It’s dropped a whopping ten percent since marijuana legislation passed. Of course, as one can’t conclude that the alleged crime wave mentioned above is a result of weed, one can’t conclude that a decrease in crime is a result either. Plainly put, there’s way too many variables to single out a sole factor.

Decriminalization results in fewer criminals

Since Colorado legalized weed, marijuana possession charges have fallen by 95 percent (according to The Atlantic) and other types of marijuana-related crimes have fallen 81 percent. This saves people from punishment they don’t deserve, saving tax payers money, and freeing law enforcement to pursue legitimate wrongdoings. Taking a murderer off the street is clearly more important than nabbing someone smoking up – the only thing they ever murder is pizza.

The Crime Rate in Washington

Now let’s go west young men (and women) and take a peek at the Evergreen State. Not surprisingly, arrests for marijuana possession in Washington are also down: they’re 98 percent lower than they were before legalization. As for other crime? It’s down as well.

The Independent Journal Review reports that crime in Washington is at a 40-year low

This includes violent crime (which is down ten percent) and homicide (which is down 13 percent). Overall, the state’s rate of any kind of violent crime is much lower than the national average.

Property crime state-wide is down too. Per FBI statistics, the rate decreased between 2013 and 2014. Unlike violence, Washington historically has a much higher rate of property crime than the average US state.

But wait (again)….

They give it and they take it away: according to data from the Seattle Police Department, property crime has increased at a rapid pace since 2012. All in all, this type of crime is up 50 percent in the city since big, bad legalization.

But, like Denver to Colorado, Seattle doesn’t represent everywhere in man-stealing-a-womans-purseWashington. If it was really pot driving a spike in criminality, one would expect to see an increase all over the state and not merely in the biggest cities (where crime is always higher anyway, regardless of legalization status).

And, again, using statistic from 2012 is propaganda: marijuana became legal on December 6 when there were literally 25 days left in that year. Furthermore, pot shops didn’t open in Seattle (or anywhere in this northwest state) until July of 2014.

The Other Variables

Legalization may be a variable in crime, but it is far from the only one (or the most important one). Alcohol, the economy, local law enforcement, trends in attitudes, and even the weather each play roles. Perhaps nothing plays as big a role inside a city as opportunity. If you leave your brand new car unlocked and running in a dark alley, there’s a possibility you’ll never see it again.

Crime goes up and goes down 

it’s the man inside a restaurant making the waitress stand impatiently because he can’t decide on soup or salad. And barring any major event, such as an economic depression, it’s purely speculative to point to one factor as hindering the criminal element or aiding and abetting the bad guys.

It’s always possible that somewhere pot contributed to an individual doing something wrong. But a few statistics fail to paint a broad picture.

In Denver, crime was on the upswing before legalization. In Seattle, property crime has always been an issue

Not so fun fact: property crime is a problem in other areas too.  In fact, Tucson, Orlando, and St. Louis are three cities with some of the highest rates of property crime in the nation. What do they have in common? Weed is prohibited in each one. So maybe something else is to blame, like that Devil’s music, Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Jenn Keeler

About the author: Jenn Keeler is a freelance writer and illustrator specializing in humorous lifestyle articles. She is one of the few people on earth actually using an English degree. Her heart belongs to the Denver Broncos and her husband. In that order.