Addressing the questions I posed in my previous post of, “what are the pros and cons of legalizing recreational marijuana? And do the pros outweigh the cons?”, one of the pros is that the decriminalization of marijuana will decrease the amount of non-violent drug offenses and reduce the overall crime rate. Proponents of legalization argue that thousands of “good” people are being arrested for possession of marijuana and are sent to jail on mandatory minimums.
Looking to the example set by Washington and Colorado, Prop 64 supporters believe that marijuana legalization will decrease crime rates, saving state and local governments thousands of dollars on imprisonment and arrests costs. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization promoting drug policies, after one year of legalization in Washington, the report claims, “Filings for low-level marijuana offenses are down 98% for adults 21 and older. All categories of marijuana law violations are down 63% and marijuana-related convictions are down 81%.”
Not only are crime rates dropping, but the states are also benefiting economically from legalization: “Washington has collected nearly $83 million in marijuana tax revenues,” saving the state millions of dollars in crime fighting and reallocating that money toward, “funding substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, youth and adult drug education, community health care services, and academic research and evaluation on the effects of marijuana legalization.” So by decriminalizing the sale and possession of marijuana would be killing two birds with one stone in a sense because not only would the state save money by reducing the costs of enforcing non-violent drug offenses, but the state would even gain millions in tax revenue on top of the money they would save.
Despite the monetary benefits, some conservatives insist on opposing Prop 64 because they fear for the future of the youth. Though the proposed law would strictly enforce the fact that only adults 21 years old or older may possess and buy marijuana, opponents believe that legalizing marijuana for adults will still increase illegal consumption among the youth and young teens; however, the statistics disagree.
According to Joshua Miller, author of the Boston Globe article, “In Colo., a look at life after marijuana legalization”, he states that, “the change in Colorado’s youth use rate from 2012-2013 — before full legalization— to 2013-2014 — partly after — was not statistically significant. And federal statisticians say the findings are not sufficient to draw conclusions about changes in youth marijuana use patterns as a result of legalization.” While the stats do not give a definitive answer on whether legalization increases consumption among the youth, they still challenge the preconceived notion that the youth will be negatively influenced by the substance. Also, by allocating some of the potential tax revenue toward research and raising awareness to stop substance abuse the possible negative impact on the youth will be further reduced.
Despite all these reasons I just stated there are still negatives to legalization which I will address in my next post; however, the main takeaway from this side of the argument is that passing Prop 64 will take millions of dollars out of the black market and generate millions more in tax revenue, all while reducing the overall crime rate and raising awareness to stop substance abuse.