Initiative 502 was passed in Washington in November of 2012 and was implemented one month later. In the text of the legislation, the first reason of intent for the new law is the ability to allow “law enforcement resources to be focused on violent and property crimes.”
A recent study by the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has shown that this is proving to be successful.
Now that the law has been in place for over a year, it is possible to get a glimpse of how cannabis legalization is affecting crime fighting in the state. The numbers are staggering, and as the ACLU reports, since 2009 arrests for cannabis possession as a misdemeanor have slowly dropped until 2013, where it plummets to virtually an insignificant amount.
- 2009 – 7,964
- 2010 – 6,743
- 2011 – 6,879
- 2012 – 5,531
- 2013 – 120
For individuals over 21 years of age, possession of up to one ounce is now legal and possession of over one ounce to up to 40 grams is considered a misdemeanor, which most likely explains the 120 counts reported. While arrests for underage possession are still higher (about 2,000 in 2013), it has also been on the decline from previous years.
The main goal in passing Initiative 502 was to free up police resources and this report gives a strong indication that legalization has done just that. Looking at a chart provided by the ACLU from 2006-2010, over 67,000 people had been arrested for mere possession of cannabis. If the arrest statistics of 2013 are a reliable look into the future of cannabis arrests, it is clear that the state made the correct choice in regulating it instead of criminalizing it.
Not only does this information show the possibility for police to redirect their resources to more pressing crimes, it looks to additionally fulfill the second reason of intent to generate “new state and local tax revenue for education, health care, research, and substance abuse prevention.”
The ACLU also reported that hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade were spent in Washington alone on the war against cannabis. With a proven decline in Washington’s misdemeanor arrest record and the $2 million tax profit of Colorado’s recreational law, it would appear that once stores open their doors this summer, Washington may find their newfound policies turning a 180° on their financial burden of the war on cannabis.