The legalization of weed has not only drastically cut down on arrests for marijuana possession. It's also freed up time for law enforcement in Washington and Colorado to solve other crimes, a recent study by Washington State University suggests.
Researchers found that police effectiveness improved significantly in both states since marijuana was legalized in 2012. During the same time, police effectiveness in the rest of the nation remained mostly unchanged. The researchers measured the effectiveness by looking at clearance rates, or the number of cases solved by arrest of a suspect.
"It's absolutely fair to say [legalization] has some influence," says David Makin, assistant professor in WSU's department of criminal justice and criminology.
The findings are an important piece to understanding how marijuana legalization impacts public safety, Makin says.
The researchers used FBI data from 2010-2015 for the study. In that time, arrest rates for marijuana possession dropped more than 50 percent in Washington and nearly 50 percent in Colorado. At the same time, clearance rates for violent crime, burglary and motor vehicle theft and overall property crime shot upward.
Makin says a marijuana arrest for possession can take four to five hours to clear on average.
Although the study found that the two states had climbing clearance rates as marijuana was legalized, Makin cautions that the findings don't prove the results are entirely because of marijuana legalization.
"What we really want to know is, why?" Makin says.
The study is just the first of a series of studies trying to assess the influence that legalization has had on public safety. WSU is also looking into the impact of cannabis legalization on driving under the influence offenses and the impact of legalization on the black market, among other things. (WILSON CRISCIONE)