Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Brian C. Kelly

Committee Member 1

Michael T. Light

Committee Member 2

Mike Vuolo

Committee Member 3

Bert Useem

Committee Member 4

Spencer Headworth


In December of 2012, Washington and Colorado implemented the legalization of possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Following this, January of 2014, Colorado opened the first recreational marijuana dispensaries in the United States. Although the debate about recreational marijuana has been fought in the public and academic spheres, we have limited empirical data as to the effect of these policies. With this, arguments in regard to whether marijuana should be legalized in the United States have far outpaced reliable scientific research. As more states, and potentially the federal government, begin to vote on whether to legalize, reliable research will be necessary. Sociology provides possible theoretical justifications for both sides of the recreational marijuana debate. However, there is still relatively little research on the effects of legalization in the United States. The current project analyzes changes in measures of excessive drinking, crime, DUI-related fatalities, and DUI arrests in Washington and Colorado following legalization of recreational marijuana. Each set of analyses are carried out in two parts. First, I examine the effects of legalizing possession and use in 2013. Second, I examine the effects of opening recreational dispensaries in Colorado in 2014. These separate analyses are utilized to uncover any shock-effects that might be inherently tied to legalization of possession and use or the opening of recreational dispensaries. Results indicate that, in most of the analyses, there are no significant effects of either part of legalization on the outcome variables of interest. The lone significant effect is that policing of DUI appears to increase following the legalization of possession and use in Washington and Colorado in 2013. The implications of these findings for both sociological theory and policy-making are discussed in the concluding chapter.