The number of misdemeanor charges against adults over the age of 21 for marijuana possession have severely dropped in Washington state after voters approved a ballot measure last election that legalized recreational marijuana use.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the new marijuana laws have allowed law enforcement officials to spend more time on other criminal offenses instead of marijuana charges.
ACLU’s Washington state chapter found that in 2013, the number of filed misdemeanor marijuana possession charges were 120 cases, which is down from 5,531 cases in 2012.
The state ballot initiative has freed up time for police officers, the ACLU says, and has re-focused the efforts that are typically exerted on misdemeanor marijuana offenses – including basic investigation, paperwork and court time – to other criminal cases per day.
“The data strongly suggest that I-502 has achieved one of its primary goals - to free up limited police and prosecutorial resources,” state ACLU’s criminal justice policy counsel Mark Cooke said in a news release.
“The hope is that could free up scarce limited public safety resources to focus on more pressing needs,” Cooke said.
There is still some concern about the ballot measure with police officers worrying about underage users potentially getting their hands on marijuana. Currently, Washington’s law prohibits people under 21 from possessing it, and adults 21 years or older may possess up to “one ounce of usable marijuana.”
But numbers from Washington’s Administrative Office of the Courts shows that misdemeanor possession charges have fallen in the past two years among people under 21. Last year, the number of marijuana charges was 1,963. In 2012, the number was 3,469 and in 2011, the number was 4,127.
Cooke says that racial disparities still exist in the number of marijuana charges. Among the 120 possession charges last year, the data showed that black adults were three times more likely to have marijuana possession charges filed against them than white adults. This ratio also pertained to the data before the ballot measure was passed in 2012.