Cannabis and Crime Rates

Cannabis and Crime Rates 2022

Studies Show Legalizing Marijuana Reduces Crime Rates

  • A major talking point for opponents of marijuana legalization is that it leads to increases in crime rates.
  • However several studies have now confirmed that legalizing marijuana actually reduces local crime rates.
  • Marijuana laws are, however, responsible for increases in drug trafficking. 
  • The enforcement of marijuana laws has cost the country over $50 billion dollars.
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Marijuana is still categorized as a Schedule I drug under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. For well over half a century, this antiquated law has been a pivotal element in the “War on Drugs,” and the incarceration of millions of individuals in the U.S. 

Stringent marijuana laws were put in place with the intention of lowering crime rates. However, the effects were devastating. Drug arrests increased ten-fold. And it spawned rampant drug trafficking, money laundering, drug-related robberies, and deadly turf wars.

The “War on Drugs” has also proven to be catastrophic in financial terms. Not surprisingly, the combined state and federal annual expenditures for incarcerations and law enforcement are in the neighborhood of fifty billion dollars.

Studies on cannabis legalization and crime rates 

For decades there has been a misguided belief that casual drug use is responsible for spikes in criminal behavior. There is, indeed, a well-documented correlation between property crimes and the legalization of marijuana. However, it’s not the correlation that opponents expected. According to some recent studies, there is a strong correlation between the legalization of cannabis and reductions in both violent and property crime rates.

Scores of studies and twenty-five years’ worth of data gathered from state and national crime databases have disproved a major talking point of opponents of cannabis legalization who claim that it causes a spike in crime rates. 

Study Findings:

A recent study out of Florida State University concluded thus: 

“The reallocation of police resources [to drug enforcement] results in reduced deterrence for property crime and as a result an increase in these crimes. Evidence suggests that rising property crimes in Florida are at least partially the result of drug enforcement policy.”

And the Boise State University Blue Review made this claim in a 2020 opinion piece:

“The War on Drugs is primarily a war on marijuana since the vast majority of arrests made and resources spent have been focused on marijuana offenses. In recent years, drug arrests in general, and marijuana possession arrests in particular, have been increasing while at the same time the rates of serious crimes have been decreasing.”

This scholarly report also made the following points:

  • The US recorded more than 663,000 cannabis-related arrests in 2018 alone.
  • Of the 663,000 arrests, more than 608,000 were for simple possession.
  • Recreational marijuana users, not dealers, are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement.
  • Many of those non-violent recreational users will be convicted and tax monies will support their incarceration.
  • The cost of housing an inmate is between $30,000 to $35,000 annually.

The Victoria University of Wellington, recently released a publication, concluding:

“The first and most general assertion gleaned from recent studies is that legalization of marijuana does not cause an increase in overall crime rates. Based on a 25-year assessment of data from state and national crime databases, a study released by the concluded: We do not find evidence that medical marijuana laws consistently affect violent and property crime. […] Our results suggest that liberalization of marijuana laws is unlikely to result in the substantial social cost that some politicians clearly fear.”

Another multi-year study claims:

“No statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in these states… ] legalization has not had major detrimental effects on public safety.”

Another talking point of opponents is that marijuana dispensaries attract criminal activity. However, the RAND Corporation addressed this issue in a 2018 report and concluded:

“We find no evidence that ordinances allowing for marijuana dispensaries lead to an increase in crime. We find no effects on burglary, robberies, or assaults, which are the types of crimes one would expect if dispensaries were prime targets as a result of their holding large amounts of cash. […] In fact, we see some evidence of a reduction in property crime.”

These conclusions were subsequently reinforced by a  2014 review of FBI data indicating that:

“Medical marijuana legalization is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault… robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present. …. [T]his is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.”

The  Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization published a report in 2019 in which authors claimed:

“First-pass evidence is provided that the legalization of the cannabis market across U.S. states is inducing a crime drop.”

Prior to making this statement, researchers embarked on a multi-year study of crime rates in Oregon and Washington after the legalization of cannabis. The authors of this study made the following statement:

“We exploit the staggered legalization of recreational marijuana enacted by the adjacent states of Washington (end of 2012) and Oregon (end of 2014).  [Our model shows] a significant reduction in rapes and property crimes on the Washington side of the border in 2013–2014 relative to the Oregon side and relative to the pre-legalization years 2010–2012. The legalization also increased consumption of marijuana and reduced consumption of other drugs and both ordinary and binge alcohol.”

Moreover, similar conclusions were drawn after the  IZA Institute of Economics examined the data culled from the groundbreaking study. The IZA team theorized the reduction in violent crime may be attributed to users’ substitution away from drugs which have remained illegal and from alcohol, which makes consumers more aggressive than if consuming cannabis.”

Several additional benefits related to marijuana legalization have also been documented by researchers.

One study, titled “Crime Reduction in Border States,” published in The Economic Journal, maintained that: 

“Consistent with the theory that decriminalization of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organizations.”

The report noted that this effect was strongest in counties located within 200 miles of the U.S./Mexico border.

Courts saw a surge in clearance rates for property and violent crimes post-legalization in both Washington State and California. It was detailed in a  2018 report in the Police Quarterly. This was largely attributed to police officers not routinely being diverted by the enforcement of cannabis laws.

Furthermore, there was a marked decrease in smuggling activity at international borders. The Cato Institute published a report in 2018, and duly noted that: 

“After decades of no progress in reducing marijuana smuggling, the average Border Patrol agent between ports of entry confiscated 78 percent less marijuana in the fiscal year  2018 than in 2013.”

The explanation for this trend was: 

“State marijuana legalization starting in 2014 did more to reduce marijuana smuggling than the doubling of Border Patrol agents or the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing did from 2003 to 2009. As more states [legalize marijuana] these trends will only accelerate.”

Some of the most compelling evidence on the correlation between crime reduction and cannabis legalization comes from an October 2021 working paper from Appalachian State University’s Department of Economics. The paper provides similar insights and resoundingly reinforces the previous studies’ conclusions.

The author of the paper claims that the role of marijuana legalization and the resulting reduction in crime rates has been sorely underestimated in previous studies. He attributes the past discrepancies to the persistent under-reporting of key data sets from law enforcement agencies.

To summarize the in-depth report, the author makes the following conclusions:

“We estimate significant reductions in violent crime rates in states that legalize medicinal marijuana… We find evidence that ending marijuana prohibition results in larger reductions in violent crime rates in states that border Mexico and in urban counties… Medical marijuana legalization reduces property crimes, with larger reductions in states that border Mexico… Previous estimates of the effect of medical marijuana laws on crime have underestimated the reduction in crime from ending marijuana prohibitions.”

How to protect yourself from outdated cannabis laws

More than two-thirds of U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use and more than a third of those have also legalized adult recreational use. Moreover, hundreds of municipalities nationwide have decriminalized marijuana possession. 

Nonetheless, arrests for marijuana possession persist in many parts of the country. To protect themselves, cannabis users should always shop at state-licensed marijuana dispensaries. And, if possible, in states where only medical use is legal, patients who use cannabis are highly advised to obtain a medical marijuana card. It’s also wise to always avoid carrying large amounts of cannabis in public. 

While we all wait for sensible federal cannabis policy, let’s not only continue to advocate for reforms but also work to assure the freedom of ourselves and our families and friends. 

Nationwide Leaf

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