One concern many have with legalizing marijuana to any degree is that greater access to the drug would mean higher rates of crime. But a new study suggests that isn’t so, noting that states that have legalized marijuana to a degree have actually seen a sharper drop off in violent crimes than the rest of the nation.
A study published by the online journal PLOS One yesterday finds that adoption of medical marijuana laws is not associated with an increase in crime and may even result in fewer assaults and homicides. Robert G. Morris and three other University of Texas at Dallas criminologists looked at trends in homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft in the 11 states that legalized marijuana for medical use between 1990 and 2006. While crime fell nationwide during this period, it fell more sharply in the medical marijuana states, even after the researchers adjusted for various other differences between states. Morris and his colleagues suggest that the substitution of marijuana for alcohol could explain this result, although they caution that the extra reduction in crime might be due to a confounding variable they did not consider.
Of course, the study focuses on areas where marijuana use is legalized for medical reasons (as opposed to states like Colorado and Washington which have legalized it recently for recreational use), but I think it’s safe to say that a lot of supposed “medical” use of the drugs even in states that regulate it strictly might fairly be described as recreational.
Regardless, at the very least we can conclude that looser regulation of marijuana does not lead to the sort of spikes in crime opponents have suggested, and we may even be able to say that it actually reduces crime.
Which wouldn’t be surprising. Moving a major bit of black market commerce where it is attended to by criminals into the realm of legal commerce, where it is attended to by legitimate businesses, is going to mean less crime of many sorts, not just criminal.