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Study Looks at Marijuana Legalization and Crime

Posted by Steve Karimi | Oct 24, 2019 | 0 Comments

A recent study out of Washington State University (WSU) examined the relationship between crime and the legalization of marijuana. According to the study, the bottom line is that legalizing marijuana has had little impact on violent or property crime rates.

Dale Willits, a professor in the criminal justice and criminology department at WSU and co-author of the study, said that crime rates in Washington and Colorado were compared to 21 other states who have not legalized either recreational or medicinal marijuana usage from data covering 1999 to 2016. The data was collected from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report, which collects crime data on a monthly basis.

Willits said, “What we found essentially was that there was really no difference between Washington, Colorado and these states,” Willits said. “There are caveats – we only looked at certain types of crime and marijuana has only been legal for a certain amount of time. But overall, we didn't find any consistent pattern of crime increasing or decreasing compared to the control states.”

In fact, the study showed that Washington saw a decrease in burglary rates, as well as (naturally) a decline in marijuana possession arrests. Willits added, “This is but one study and legalization of marijuana is still relatively new, but by replicating our findings, policymakers can answer the question of how legalization affects crime.”

The Nanogram Debate

The WSU study also explored the debate over using the five nanogram limit in marijuana DUI cases involving someone who is suspected of being high. In Washington (and in several other states) five nanograms of THC in a person's system is equivalent to blowing a .08 BAC on a breath test for alcohol.

However, there is no breath test for marijuana and if an officer pulls someone over and suspects they may be high, and the driver will not submit a blood sample, the officer has to ask a judge to order a warrant for a blood draw, wait for the warrant, and then take the suspect to a hospital for the blood draw. By the time the blood draw finally happens, the level of THC in their system has probably dropped.

Willits said numerous law enforcement officers and prosecutors throughout Washington were interviewed on the issue. “Some of them, not all of them, but some of them express dismay at the nanogram limit, because now they will go to trial and juries will expect to see this five nanogram blood test. But blood tests aren't ordered for each DUI stop.”

Willits also said that because marijuana is not processed by a body the same way alcohol is, using similar methods to test for cannabis is not appropriate. Now that the legalization of marijuana is becoming more popular, there needs to be better roadside tests for marijuana DUIs.

Defense Attorney Steve Karimi

Whether you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime, or if you have been charged with a marijuana DUI, you need the legal expertise of the Law Offices of Steve Karimi to defend your rights. They offer free consultations: call them today at 206-621-8777 or fill out a contact form to get started on building your defense.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.