So Far, So Good: What We Know About Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C.

Press Release October 12, 2016
Media Contact

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<p>Joy Haviland 510-679-2317<br />
Tony Newman 646-335-5384</p>

As Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada prepare to vote on marijuana legalization next month, all eyes are on the initial outcomes of those states that have already legalized marijuana. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to D.C. law).

A new report by the Drug Policy Alliance brings good news for the states considering legalization at the ballot on November 8, 2016, and the broader marijuana legalization movement. Since the adult possession of marijuana became legal, these states have benefitted from a dramatic decrease in marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as increased tax revenues. During the same period, these states did not experience increases in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities.

“Marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure—to individuals, communities, and the entire country,” says Joy Haviland, staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “States that have chosen to legalize marijuana under state law should be praised for developing a smarter, more responsible approach to marijuana.”

The report’s key findings include:

In Colorado, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by 46 percent between 2012 and 2014, from 12,894 to 7,004.  In Washington,  the total number of low-level marijuana court filings fell by 98 percent from 6,879 in 2011 to 120 in 2013.  In Washington, D.C., marijuana arrests decreased 85 percent from 2014 to 2015, with possession arrests falling by 98 percent from 1,840 in 2014 to 32 in 2015. In Alaska marijuana charges and arrests in Alaska decreased by 59 percent between 2013 and 2015 even though retail sales of marijuana have not yet begun.  Marijuana arrests in Oregon declined by 50 percent from 2011 to 2014, from 4,223 arrests to 2,109 in 2014.

Nationally, there were 643,121 marijuana arrests in the U.S. in 2015, a decrease from 700,993 in 2014. Black and Latino people are arrested at vastly disproportionate rates, even though white people use and sell marijuana at similar rates. A marijuana arrest creates a permanent criminal record that can easily be found by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies and banks. Additionally, the huge number of marijuana arrests every year usurps scarce law enforcement, criminal justice and treatment resources at enormous cost to taxpayers.

The Drug Policy Alliance and its electoral arm, Drug Policy Action, worked closely with local and national allies to draft each of this year’s initiatives, build coalitions, and raise funds. Voters in California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Nevada and Maine will vote on similar marijuana legalization initiatives next month.

“By shifting away from counterproductive marijuana arrests and focusing instead on public health, states that have legalized marijuana are better positioned to address the potential harms of marijuana use, while also diminishing many of the worst harms of the war on drugs,” added Haviland.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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