The mechanics of how the legalization of marijuana will reduce crime
In 1996, California legalized medical cannabis. Since then, around 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.
For many years, marijuana use was linked to criminal activities. In his infamous Gore Files, the Chief of the Narcotics Board, Harry Anslinger, had, in the 1930s, made a collection of narratives of marijuana resulting in crime to gain public backing for its ban.
Although there is a correlation between the use of cannabis and criminal activities, there is no evidence of it being the cause. A study carried out between 1988 and 2013 in cities with an average of 50 000 residents (covering both states where marijuana is legal as well as where it’s illegal) rules out that the legalization of marijuana led to an increase in crime. It is, therefore, false to claim that the use of cannabis leads to criminality.
Effect on crime clearance rates
In California, legalization of marijuana has seen a 20% drop in the rate of property crimes and violence in the last two decades. In states where recreational marijuana is legal, time spent by police on marijuana arrests can now be spent on solving other types of crime. Data from the FBI shows an increase in crime clearance rates (the number of violent and property cases solved) post-legalization.
A study on FBI data shows that the Border States were the biggest beneficiaries of the legalization laws. In California, violent crime reduced by 15%, whereas in Arizona it fell by 7%. Drug trade-related homicides had a 41% decline, while robbery and murder fell by 19% and 10% respectively.
The story is no different in Colorado. For instance, between 2012 and 2017, marijuana arrests fell 56% from 12 709 to 6153. This is according to a report by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Office prepared in October 2018. According to the report, the marijuana industry-related crimes did not change and constituted a minute percentage of overall crime. A burglary was the most common industry-related crime reported in 2017, accounting for 59%.
In Colorado, all forms of violent crime have steadily increased in the last five years, with murders and aggravated assaults reaching rising by 25% in the four years between 2013 and 2017. Whether this rise is related to marijuana legalization remains a hotly debated topic.
In the first full year of legal sales, the number of cases filed against people for farming, circulation, and possession of cannabis dropped by 85% compared to three years pre-legalization. This decline in convictions was also witnessed in other jurisdictions, such as Oregon Alaska and Washington, where recreational cannabis is legalized.
Whereas legalization does not stop illegal production, supply, and sale of marijuana, it is likely to reduce it significantly. These mechanisms, in effect, reduce the workload on law enforcement officers, courts, and prisons; leaving more resources to focus on other forms of crime.
The use of marijuana by minors has also reduced significantly due to its regulation.
Effect on drug cartels and market wars
The marijuana news report that the legalization of cannabis has led to a significant reduction in criminal activities related to its production, distribution, and supply in the highly competitive drug markets. It has also shrunk the cannabis black market as more people get into the business, increasing the supply available.
Whereas most of the marijuana used in California and other U.S. states comes from Mexico and is controlled by seven major cartels, a reduction in the activities of these drug traffickers and affiliated gangs has led to a decrease in violent crime in locations near the Mexican border.
With the number of cannabis farms in the U.S., thanks to the 2014 Farm Bill, there has been significant growth in production and supply of marijuana, thereby increasing competition. This translates to less business for the cartels.
The trickle effect is a decrease in drug-related violence. The cartels have to defend their territories and compete with each other to remain in business, smuggling reduces significantly, and there is a reduction in violence.
The de-penalization of possession of marijuana for medical or recreational use has led to an increase in its demand. However, the effects of such increased demand in states where it is legal are more than offset by a drop in crime related to legalization.
The role of job creation
As the legal use of marijuana continues to grow, as seen in the last five years, there has been an increase in employment in the industry as well as ancillary segments. In Colorado alone, as of January 2019, 41 796 individuals have been licensed, with 1637 of these being investors. An active license, according to Marijuana Policy Group, is equated to an equivalent of 0.467 full-time positions meaning that Colorado’s marijuana industry employs an equivalent of roughly 19 518 full-time staff. It is further estimated that the ancillary sector employs 23% of direct marijuana jobs in Colorado.
This growth in people securing full-time employment reduces crime, as more people who would otherwise be unemployed are busy contributing to the growing industry.
Whereas some criminals use marijuana, there is no proof that it is the cause of their behavior. There is no proven connection between the correlation of marijuana to crime and its cause.
Although various studies have found a relationship between violent mannerisms and heavy use of cannabis among teens, numerous recent studies have disproved such theories.
According to a study carried out in 2013, Medical Marijuana legalization (MML), there was a reduction in road fatalities mainly caused by drunk driving. This is because marijuana is often taken as a substitute drug instead of alcohol, and consumption of alcohol has a high correlation with unsafe driving, while marijuana does not.
Marijuana and other drugs
Studies show that MML use is associated with a decline in opioid use. Studies carried out in 2014 and 2016, found that opioid overdoses had declined by 25% in states that legalized medical marijuana. The use of MML for pain management had reduced the use of opioids in Michigan and California. The use of cannabis for leisure purposes had an even stronger effect.
In Colorado, the number of deaths associated with opioid use reduced significantly. These deaths continue to be seen in states where marijuana remains illegal.
Alcohol abuse has also decreased among marijuana use as it is normally used as a substitute, rather than as a supplement. With such a significant effect on the use of other drugs and subsequent crimes associated with them, it’s better to control marijuana and let people pay taxes on it than prohibit it.
One of the secondary benefits of marijuana legalization is the reduced use among teenagers. The number of adolescents using marijuana dropped by 11% between 2011 and 2017. This is due to the controlled distribution and, therefore, the availability of cannabis to underage persons. School drop-out rates have also significantly declined since 2012.
In conclusion, cannabis does not make it more likely that a person is going to commit a crime; rather, it attracts a growing seasonal following that is more likely to commit a crime.
Evidently, there are underlying benefits of legitimizing marijuana. The implementation of policies and systems governing the supply and distribution of cannabis are the critical areas that authorities should be focused on. With such systems in place, it is possible to achieve lower crime rates as already seen in other states. In essence, legalization of marijuana will in the long term make the country a safer place to live in.