One of the primary arguments used by those who oppose marijuana legalization or decriminalization is that both could/will lead to increases in crime. Many supporters of legalization/decriminalization would counter this argument by saying (among other counter-arguments) that while there may be an increase in marijuana related crime initially, these numbers would level out as society adapts to the new normal.
Now that marijuana has been legalized in multiple states, we have the opportunity to analyze who is correct on this matter, in an objective manner using the data and information available. Colorado began the sales of legalized commercial cannabis in 2014, as one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, this is where we have a lot available data. So, let’s take a look...
(This data comes from the Colorado Department of Public Safety)
*It’s worth noting that marijuana will show trace levels during drug tests for up to 30 days after consumption*
Conclusion: In Colorado, following recreational legalization, traffic citations related to marijuana decreased overall, however, there was an increase in drivers who had tested positive for marijuana. Although, it should be noted that marijuana stays in your system for 30 days after use, so it stands to reason that if more people are smoking/ingesting marijuana as a result of legalization, it is showing up in more drug tests, and doesn’t immediately mean that drivers were under the influence at the time of the test.
Conclusion: This one is a bit harder to pin down. When recreational marijuana was introduced there were some increases in crime, without analysis, it just seems as if legalization led to an increase of crime outright, but there were also increases in laws related to marijuana. It stands to reason that when there are new laws created, there will be more crime as a result of new laws. In some other data below, we dig into this a bit further.
Conclusion: Looking at only the data provided by Colorado, it would indicate that the areas being recorded saw an increase. However, with seizures that number seems to now be on the decline, supporting arguments that while there may be initial increases, those increases level out as time passes after legalization. Alternatively, recent studies on the effects of out-of-state crime as a result of recreational legalization in Colorado tell a different story entirely, and that is included in the article below.
Conclusion: In general, issues related to marijuana in the context of usage by minors has decreased.
According to a more recent study, conducted by Guangzhen Wu of the University of Utah, Francis D. Boateng of the University of Mississippi and Texas-based economic and statistical consultant Thomas Roney, the authors write: “We did not detect any increases in the rates of multiple types of crimes in border counties of the nonlegalized states bordering Colorado and Washington,” wrote the authors of the new study, published in the Journal of Drug Issues. Moreover, “we observed a substantial reduction in certain types of crimes, namely, property crime, larceny, and simple assault, in border counties in the Colorado region.”
More information about this study can be found here.
(this information comes from a report that can be found here, the reports cited below are all broken down in the footer of the report as references).
*as we move on to some other statistics, keep in mind that while some studies are conducted in 2013-2014, they are including medical marijuana legalization, along with recreational legalization)*
If you’ve stuck around this long, we salute you. This is a lot of data to go through, and sometimes that sort of things can become confusing or difficult to follow. There are likely other reports here with more data available, and we suggest to try and search that data out if this is a topic that holds your interest. However, for the sake of this article not being any longer than it currently is, we decided to go with what’s included here.
This is a tricky debate to have, and it requires a lot of intellectual honesty to fid the truth, be it in debate or analysis. An example is how without context, looking at crime rates in Colorado related to marijuana overall would lead one to believe that crime has increased as a result of legalization. But when you break down crimes by category, and you consider the fact that more laws came as a result of legalization, the discussion becomes anything but clear-cut.
What’s more interesting are the tertiary results listed. Things like an increase in the rate of clearances for violent crimes, reductions in drug prescriptions to treat common issues, an overall decrease in traffic fatalities, an overall reduction in property crime, and a reduction in overdoses from opioid use.
Data is a tricky thing, and it’s often times difficult to sift through the narrative behind the data being presented. The same thing could be said for this specific article and breakdown, and it’s that reason exactly why we recommend you look under the hood and go through some of this data yourself to have a better understanding of what the landscape of crime looks like in a post-legalization world. One thing is for sure, legalization seems to be a trend that’s catching on, and as it does we will have much more data.
It is worth pointing out that while there are some areas of increase, none of those found from this brief analysis seemed particularly egregious. When you consider that, and then observe the monetary gains that have come as a result of legalization, the case against legalization becomes much more difficult.