Legalizing recreational marijuana has had minimal effect on violent or property crime rates in Washington and Colorado, a WSU study funded by the National Institute of Justice has found.

Dale Willits.
Willits

“As the nationwide debate about legalization, the federal classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, and the consequences of legalization for crime continues, it is essential to center that discussion on studies that use contextualized and robust research designs with as few limitations as possible,” Dale W. Willits, an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at WSU and a study co-authortold the Crime & Justice Research Alliance“This is but one study and legalization of marijuana is still relatively new, but by replicating our findings, policymakers can answer the question of how legalization affects crime.” 

Previous studies have reported mixed and inconclusive results. But the new research, published today in the journal Justice Quarterlyuses what are described as more rigorous methods in the evaluation of monthly crime rates as compiled in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports from 1999 to 2016. 

The researchers focused on Washington and Colorado, the first two states in the nation to legalize the growing, processing and commercial sale of cannabis for recreational use, and compared monthly crime rates to those in 21 states where recreational and medicinal marijuana use remains illegal. 

The study found no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws, or the initiation of legal retail sales, on violent or property crime rates in either state, though Washington saw a decline in burglary rates. The findings suggest legalization and sales of marijuana have had minimal effect on major crimes in both states. 

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