Almost without exception, state lawmakers entertaining the idea of legalizing marijuana hear concerns from people who are convinced that legalization will bring with it more crime. Statistics are cited and anecdotal cases are reviewed. But are the concerns justified? Study data suggests they are not.
Numerous reports seem to indicate that marijuana legalization has little to no impact on violent crime. However, most of the studies have one fatal flaw: they only look at violent crime rates in the years before and following marijuana legalization. They do not actually look for any direct links between crime rates and legalized pot.
They Don’t Tell the Whole Story
According to the Kansas City Star, a 2018 study conducted by researchers from Stockton University and Washington State University did not uncover any statistically significant changes in property and violent crimes following pot legalization in Washington and Colorado.
Likewise, a DOJ study commission in 2020 determined there was no significant difference in violent crime rates between pot-friendly and prohibitionist states. A larger study conducted by the Cato Institute looked at data for the nine years spanning 2012 to 2020. It revealed no significant increase or decrease in violent crime rates following marijuana legalization.
Unfortunately, none of the studies tell the whole story. Comparing crime rates across many years really only tells you if crime increases or decreases. It doesn’t indicate why crime rates change. So while it doesn’t appear that legalized pot contributes to violent crime, that doesn’t mean it does not contribute to other types of crime.
Pot and Highway Deaths
If we look at the legalized pot question from another angle, we can see a starkly different result in the data. For example, multiple studies have shown that marijuana consumption may be contributing to higher death rates on America’s roads. One study cited by the Star shows the number of fatally injured drivers testing positive for marijuana jumped by 10 percentage points in a decade. It was 8% in 2007 and 18% in 2016.
A study in Washington state determined that the number of fatal crashes involving THC-positive drivers doubled after marijuana was legalized there. Several other studies have shown similar results in different states.
Again, the data seems to suggest that pot legalization makes the roads less safe. But there are other factors in play, factors that the studies do not necessarily account for. The fact is that we can make assumptions but, until we do more detailed research into cause-and-effect, we cannot say for sure.
Legal Marijuana Is Here to Stay
All the research data notwithstanding, legalized marijuana is here to stay. If a highly conservative state like Utah can give the green light to medical cannabis, it is only a matter of time until the remaining holdouts states get in line. From there, the push will be to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide.
The owners of the Deseret Wellness medical cannabis pharmacy in Park City, UT say that Utah lawmakers are dead set against recreational cannabis in their state. But they were also strongly opposed to medical cannabis when Proposition 2 passed in 2018. So who knows?
Opposition may become a moot point if federal lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana across the board. In such a case, states would probably retain the right to regulate as they see fit. But it is hard to imagine that any state legislative bodies would continue insisting on a ban. Public opinion is too strong, and the tax revenues are too lucrative to resist.
As for crime, it appears as though legalized pot doesn’t make it worse. But then again, studies have been wrong before.