The Impact of Seattle’s Legal Marijuana Market on Crime Rates

Seattle is a vibrant, food-and-drink-centric city in the Pacific Northwest that boasts a stunning waterfront setting. It’s also home to a large tech industry.

A recent study by Washington State University researchers found that crime rates in Seattle stayed about the same after legalization, which matched trends in states with more strict pot laws.

1. Property Crimes

Seattle’s legal marijuana market is bringing a new level of social equity to the city. Seattle law enforcement has taken steps to support cannabis workers and neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the federal drug war. A new city ordinance could introduce new “social equity” criteria for marijuana businesses to qualify for licenses.

Overall, crime rates in Seattle have declined since the state legalized pot in 2014. However, not all Seattle neighborhoods saw the same decline.

This could be attributed to a variety of factors, including the fact that police agencies are often very diverse in their resource allocations and expertise. In addition, the study analyzed only significant crimes, so it does not account for other types of offenses also legal in Washington, such as DUI.

Property crimes, such as robbery and burglary, comprise most of the city’s reported crimes. These crimes were committed at 4,496 per 100,000 people in 2019.

2. Drug-Related Crimes

We examined changes in adult marijuana arrest rates and disparities in rates for African Americans in Washington State (WA) after the legalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana for 21+ year-olds in December 2012 and after the marijuana retail market opened in July 2014. This analysis uses data from 2012-2015 National Incident-Based Reporting System arrests.

Using negative binomial regression models, we examined monthly marijuana arrest rates over time and tested for differences between African Americans and Whites, adjusting for age and sex. Our results show that the 2012-2015 declines in adult marijuana arrests and the reductions in arrest disparities between African Americans and Whites were significant. Additionally, the city has seen a considerable decrease in the number of low-level drug offenders booked into jail, reflected in the decreasing number of Seattle prisoner mugshots

We also found that crime rates decreased significantly in neighborhoods near dispensaries but did not increase in adjacent communities. This is consistent with the theory that legalization causes an overall decrease in local crime. However, we cannot rule out that these decreases may simply be displaced by increased policing or private security in neighborhoods near dispensaries.

3. Drug-Related Violent Crimes

The Impact of Seattle’s Legal Marijuana Market on Crime Rates

As marijuana legalization spreads nationwide, many states consider how their new laws might affect violent crime. Washington is no exception.

When the state’s felony drug law was abolished last year, many local law enforcement agencies were forced to scale back operations and cut staff. This has led to an increase in violent crimes.

In Seattle, there has been a significant rise in homicides. These crimes are often committed in areas where people struggle to find work.

While some people have cited the legalization of marijuana as a reason for the increased violence, it’s important to note that alcohol and drugs do not only affect the behavior of those who use them but also those who are around them.

For this reason, cities and states must try to reduce the impact of marijuana-related violent crimes on communities of color. One way to do this is to support programs that provide alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.

4. Drug-Related Property Crimes

The impact of Seattle’s legal marijuana market on crime rates is a topic of interest to local governments, law enforcement agencies, and public safety advocates. It is essential to understand that the legal cannabis market does not eliminate drug-related violent crimes, and the legal pot market may encourage criminal activity among rival factions of the black market.

A new study found no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in Washington and Colorado. However, the study did find that arrests for possession of marijuana decreased significantly after its legalization in both states.

Police officials are targeting people selling weed, committing violent crimes, and engaging in predatory behavior as part of a series of emphasis patrols called “Operation New Day.” Officers have arrested 33 defendants in felony drug dealing cases at Third and Pike and 12th and Jackson downtown since January. Those detained include those selling heroin, meth, crack cocaine, and fentanyl.

Seattle Police Launch New Programs to Combat Increase in Gun Violence

Experts thought the 30% increase in the homicide rate in 2020 would only be a brief blip. But most cities have seen a rise, and according to criminologist Susan Gravel, this is not the 1990s.

President Biden and his administration are working to stop the flow of weapons used in crimes, support local, state, and federal law enforcement, and fund community-based initiatives that aim to prevent, interrupt, and lessen violence as a way to combat this.

Community Participation

Community involvement is essential to safety and crime prevention across the nation. It enables police to establish relationships with residents, earn their trust, and collaborate with them to address community issues.

The Community Engagement Officer Program in Seattle is a pilot that matches volunteers from neighborhood organizations with law enforcement officers to help them get to know the residents of their communities. According to Lieutenant Tuttle, it’s a win-win situation since it allows police to cooperate with those who want to assist and strengthens their links to the local communities.

According to research, empowering local communities through neighborhood-led initiatives and providing venues for unofficial, neighbor-to-neighbor interaction decreases violence. These methods are especially crucial in underdeveloped communities. They also contribute to people feeling safer.

Prevention of Crime

Homicides have been shown to decrease due to crime prevention methods that target the underlying causes of violence. These include passing rational legislation to keep shooters from obtaining firearms.

Building and sustaining trust between communities and law enforcement is essential for crime prevention. Making sure that police departments are held responsible for their conduct is part of this.

Supporting initiatives for community-based policing is one method to do this. Historic federal funds have been made available by the Biden Administration to assist local law enforcement in advancing these initiatives.

Cities around the nation, including Milwaukee, New York City, Albuquerque, and Syracuse, have seen positive results from these expenditures in various crime reduction methods. 

For instance, the Seattle Mugshots program in Seattle that offers matching funding to neighborhood improvement projects by community organizations significantly reduced violent crime. This was associated with community residents feeling safer and accumulating more social capital in their neighborhoods.

Youth Participation

Seattle Police is investing in adolescent engagement as a crucial tactic in lowering the rise in gun crime. We want to educate young people about the function of law enforcement and the steps they may take to lessen violence on their own.

The COPS Office supports a range of community-based initiatives, such as youth mentoring and leadership training programs. The IF Project, for instance, uses social assistance and mentoring to assist at-risk Tacoma children in bridging the juvenile detention to jail pipeline.

The PAL (Police Athletics/Activities League) program, which encourages young people to participate in athletics and other activities, is another well-known initiative. Additionally, it gives children a chance to forge wholesome relationships with police officers and presents opportunities for teamwork and leadership growth.

In addition to these youth-led initiatives, Seattle Police collaborates with families to lower violence and drug usage. Offering preventative education and assisting family outreach programs are two examples of this.

Neighborhood-Focused Policing

The goal of community-oriented police is to address concerns and problems in communities by forming partnerships with citizens. This entails partnerships with governmental organizations, nonprofit service providers, for-profit companies, and the media, as well as open communication between the police and the community about their goals and methods.

Community-focused policing is becoming a part of many cities’ overall crime prevention plans. Some of these strategies focus on “violence interrupters” and “neighborhood change agents” who work for violence intervention programs.

These experts reach out to the people who are the source of gun violence, develop friendships with them, and seek to promote conflict resolution and healing through nonviolent means. The number of gun homicides has significantly decreased thanks to initiatives like Cure Violence (formerly CeaseFire) and Advance Peace around the nation, particularly in Chicago and other areas where they have been implemented.

Communities benefit from this problem-solving since it lessens the number of non-emergency calls that police must respond to on their own. Additionally, it gives police more time to discuss concerns and solutions with citizens.