Marijuana Arrests and Social Progress


Since recreational marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado, many states have begun to ease marijuana laws and punishments. Overall, it seems that arrest rates are down for the now legal drug, with Colorado reporting decreased crime rates, traffic fatalities and an increase in jobs. This was expected, but what are other cursory effects?

A much talked about boon to the legalization of marijuana is new tax revenue. This won’t just come from sales, as there might soon be an impact on how tax money is spent. Not only are sales of recreational marijuana bringing tax revenue into states, but money spent on the “war on drugs” can hopefully move to other places, such as education programs and social services.

This long-standing fixation of the United States is now openly being recognized as a waste of resources—the ineffectual program accounts for more than $51 billion spent annually in the United States. The war on drugs is widely viewed as a failure, with even President Barack Obama stating, “[it] has been so heavy in emphasizing incarceration that it has been counterproductive … . You have young people who did not engage in violence who get very long penalties, who get placed in prison and then are rendered economically unemployable … it’s been very unproductive.”

There were 693,482 marijuana arrests in 2013, representing more than 45 percent of drug-related arrests, and approximately 88 percent of these marijuana arrests were for simple possession. As these are non-violent crimes, officials are recognizing that these offenders do not necessarily belong in prison, especially with the tenure assigned to those offenders who have much more severe charges attached to their names.

In states that have legalized marijuana, arrests are certainly down but not gone altogether as there are strict laws on using marijuana. However, these arrests and citations might not be for what you would imagine. In Seattle, over half the citations issued in 2015 have actually been given to the homeless population.

It has been noted that since Amendment 64 in Colorado, the amendment legalizing marijuana, the homeless population has dramatically increased. A homeless shelter did an informal survey of 500 new occupants, finding that roughly 30% had relocated to Denver for marijuana.

Another notable figure was the decline in the arrests attributed to synthetic marijuana. This makes sense, considering that the real thing is available for the age-appropriate public—there is no need to take a substitute. However, the biggest abusers of synthetic marijuana are still teenagers.

Synthetic marijuana is its own problem, which has been rearing its ugly head in the news for the past few years. Most recently, 11 people in Washington, D.C., overdosed on a form of synthetic marijuana on Friday, June 5. While all are expected to survive, they are in serious condition.

Synthetic marijuana is actually quite a misnomer, as according to the director of the D.C. Department of Health LaQuandra Nesbitt, “these synthetic drugs that people are smoking actually have hallucinogenic impacts more similar to PCP.”

These drugs—such as Bizzaro, K2 and Scooby Snax—have been known to cause aggressive behavior, hallucinations, stroke, heart attacks, brain damage and even death.

The progression of marijuana’s acceptance has hiccups, without a doubt, but it appears that much good is also coming from it. Hopefully as time progresses and policy is fine-tuned, positive social change will continue for marijuana users and non-users alike.

Josh Browning is a writer and editor based in Washington and has a background working in the technology, education and creative writing fields. He earned his MA from Western Washington University and his BSS from Ohio University.

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