Can Marijuana Legalization Improve Police Clearance Rates?

Written by Neil Juneja, Founder & Managing Partner of Gleam Law, PLLC. 

The rippling effects of legalizing and regulating marijuana can be difficult to measure. Proponents of legalization are quick to point how many marijuana related arrests are for possession of relatively small amounts and tend to disproportionately affect those who are already socioeconomically disenfranchised. Furthermore, people have speculated about the reduction in imprisonments as well as how legalization would free up police to pursue other crimes. Conclusions about the effects of legalization are difficult to correlate with data and often fail to consider other factors. However, a recent study published in the journal Police Quarterly shows some tangible evidence that the legalization of marijuana may improve police clearance rates.

Does Legal Weed Help Cops do Their Jobs?

According to the FBI, a crime is usually considered cleared if:

  •      At least one suspect is arrested;
  •      Charged with the commission of the offence;
  •      Turned over to the court for prosecution.

Data indicates that police clearance rates in Washington and Colorado have improved since cannabis legalization. Colorado’s clearance rates for violent crimes began to stabilize shortly after legalization in November 2012. Washington, on the other hand, saw a reversal of a downward trend in police clearance of violent crimes with clearance rates climbing following its December 2012 legalization. While the researchers emphasize that conclusive causation can’t be found between the improvements in clearance rates and legalizing weed, there have not been any other major public policy changes in either Colorado or Washington that would affect the rates in the way they observed.

SOURCE: The Washington Post

Property Crime Clearance Rates After Legalizing Pot

Post-legalization, Washington saw a spike in clearance rates related to property crime, though it quickly began to taper off. Colorado saw a smaller spike, but clearance rates continued to rise. It’s important to note that national trends around property crime clearance rates remained essentially flat during these periods.

SOURCE: The Washington Post

Conclusion: Marijuana Legalization and Police Clearance Rates

It makes logical sense that police freed from pursuing low-level marijuana crimes would be more successful in other areas, but often outcomes differ from what we see as logical. However, in this case, the data does seem to back up the idea that police are more effective at solving serious crimes when they don’t have to spend their time worried about low-level pot offenses. The report further highlights that no types of crime clearance rates in either Washington or Colorado for which legalization of marijuana seems to have had a negative impact. While the full impacts of legalization are almost immeasurable due to their complexity, at least the police in Washington and Colorado can confidently say that legalization of marijuana has helped them better do their work (probably).