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Since marijuana legalization vote, arrests for marijuana crimes dropped

In November of last year, 55 percent of voters in Colorado voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state. In the weeks after the law went into effect on January 1, all indications are that the effort to legalize the use of marijuana has been a significant success. Indeed, dispensaries continue to see heavy demand and many have realized substantial profits.

Although the media has focused most of its attention on the financial aspects of marijuana legalization, the reality is that it has also had a significant effect on the criminal justice system. Colorado’s law may even impact policy decisions by other states and the federal government.

The Denver Post recently conducted an analysis of arrest information compiled by the Colorado Judicial Branch. The Post discovered that arrests for marijuana crimes dropped precipitously in the months after the legalization proposal passed. Overall, between 2012 and 2013, the number of arrests for marijuana-related offenses in Colorado dropped by an astonishing 77 percent. Arrests for marijuana possession declined 81 percent over the same period.

In many ways, this is to be expected. Some of the Post’s findings were, however, unexpected. Notably, the newspaper’s analysis found that state prosecutors were less likely to pursue charges even for marijuana-related crimes that remain illegal. For example, prosecutions for the possession of more than 12 ounces of marijuana declined 73 percent. Prosecutions for possession of less than five pounds of marijuana with the intent to distribute dropped by 70 percent. In addition, while prosecutions for possession crimes for those over the age of 21 dropped, so did prosecutions for those under the age of 21.

Some suggest that police have been hesitant to make some arrests because questions remain about the finer points of enforcement with the new marijuana law. Others suggest that the decline in arrests and prosecutions indicates a change in attitudes about marijuana.

For decades, debate has persisted regarding the efficacy of the war on drugs. Advocates on both sides are watching Colorado and Washington closely to see what lessons they can learn about sensible drug policy.

Even though the recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado, the law in this area is still developing. If you have been charged with a crime involving marijuana or any other drug, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense lawyer can help ensure that your rights are protected.