Will Legalizing Marijuana Lead to More Crime?

The hot topic debate on a state wide basis is whether or not to make Marijuana legal. Many people are concerned that making it legal will increase crime, however according to a new national study released yesterday it will not. The same study also found that youths who tested positive for marijuana had a significantly higher number of referrals to juvenile court for nondrug felonies than those testing negative for marijuana use.

How Marijuana use Affects Users

Heavy marijuana use has been shown to result in below average achievement in important life pursuits including learning, physical health, and career. Marijuana affects memory, judgment and perception. Learning and attention skills are impaired among people who use Marijuana with regularity.

Long term research on marijuana use among young people below college age indicates those who use marijuana have lower achievement than the non-users, more acceptance of deviant behavior, more delinquent behavior and aggression, greater rebelliousness, poor social skills, and more associations with delinquent and drug-using friends.

Marijuana Use & Driving

Smoking marijuana can make driving dangerous. The cerebellum is the section of our brain that controls balance and coordination. When THC affects the cerebellum’s function it can cause disaster on the road. Research shows that drivers have slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and problems responding to signals and sounds if driving while under the influence of THC.

States Legalizing Marijuana

In 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington state passed initiatives legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and older under state law. It is important to note that the federal government still considers marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug.

Cultivation & Distributionmarijuana

Cultivation and distribution of marijuana are felonies; possession for personal use is a misdemeanor; possession of “paraphernalia” is also illegal. Cultivating 100 plants or more carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years according to federal statutes.

That being said, it is unlikely that the federal government is interested in pursuing individuals complying with state-mandated regulations surrounding legalized marijuana for recreational use, although the CSA law still gives them authority to do so.

The Department of Justice

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has attempted to clarify this issue. On August 29, 2013, the DOJ issued guidance to Federal prosecutors concerning marijuana enforcement under the CSA. The DOJ is focused on priorities, such as:

  • Preventing the distribution to minors
  • Preventing revenues from sale of marijuana towards criminal activity
  • Preventing diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is not legal
  • Preventing state-legalized marijuana from being a cover for other illegal drugs or activity
  • Prevent violence and guns in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
  • Prevent drugged driving and other public health issues
  • Prevent the use of public land for marijuana cultivation
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property

Additional states may undertake or pursue citizen petitions in the future to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Reportedly there may be initiatives for full commercial legalization on the ballot in Alaska in 2014 and in California, Maine, and Oregon in 2016. According to the Brookings Institute, Presidential years bring out an electorate more favorable to marijuana legalization than the off-year electorate.

Other States Pursuing Legalization

Other states pursuing legalization may include Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts, Montana, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  Maine and Michigan citizen voters have also passed legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but state law will likely override these voter referendums; only medical marijuana is currently legal according to state law in these states.

Support of Legalization

A majority of Americans support legalization of marijuana — 52 percent pro versus 45 percent con — according to findings from a Pew Research Center survey in March 2013. Support for marijuana legalization has increased dramatically since 2010, by 11 percentage points.

Colorado

Colorado passed Colorado Amendment 64 on November 6, 2012, allowing the sale and possession of recreational marijuana. Adults 21 years and older can grow up to three immature and three flowering, mature cannabis plants privately and in a locked space. Adults can legally possess all the cannabis from the plants in the place it was grown, but when traveling away from this place may only possess one ounce in total. In addition, an adult may give up to one ounce to another adult at least 21 years of age; it cannot be sold.

On January 1, 2014, retail marijuana shops opened for business in Colorado, and sales of marijuana are now taxed at the state level. Retail taxes on recreational marijuana can be lofty; in the Denver metro area they can exceed 20 percent. In January 2014 alone, Colorado pulled in over $2 million in taxes from recreational marijuana sales.

Penalties for Driving in Colorado Under the Influence

Specific city and county laws have been enacted to regulate how citizens and tourists may possess and consume marijuana. Penalties exist for driving while under the influence of marijuana. Someone driving under the influence of marijuana is considered impaired when five nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood or more of active THC is detected, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Tourists to the city may purchase a quarter ounce at retail shops, instead of the one ounce for state residents. The newly formed Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division of the Department of Revenue regulates recreational marijuana in the state.

Washington

On November 6, 2013 the state of Washington passed Washington Initiative 502, also legalizing marijuana possession and sale for recreational use for adults 21 years and older. The initiative was approved by popular vote, passing by roughly 56 to 44 percent.

Like Colorado, Washington taxes marijuana cultivation and sales. Washington’s retail tax rate on marijuana is somewhat higher than Colorado’s, at roughly 30 to 40 percent.However, additional excise taxes are implemented in the supply chain. It has been reported that tax dollars will be directed to schools, youth drug abuse programs, and campaigns to hinder driving while under the influence of marijuana.

Personal Use

Washington residents cannot grow recreational marijuana for personal use, although they can cultivate medical marijuana if it is approved by a physician for their use. Residents may possess up to one ounce of marijuana, previously a misdemeanor charge. The same rules for driving under the influence in Colorado apply to Washington residents.

The state of Washington will be issuing the first retail store licenses in March 2014; they are expected to open in June 2014. The commercial market in Washington State is regulated by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

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