The new research paper, published in Justice Quarterly Tuesday, takes a close look at Colorado and Washington. the first U.S. states to legalize the consumption of cannabis. The research authors—who hail from Stockton University and Washington State University—examine violent and property crime rates, in particular; they found that the have barely changed since pot became legal in these states.
Legalization Is Here To Stay
Since legalization has swept the nation, many critics have tried to argue that legalizing cannabis will make people mad with violence! After all, that was behind much of the reasoning behind the campaign to criminalize the drug in the first place. “Reefer madness!” Some GOP members even believe smoking weed makes people into zombies. (Really.) While this argument has made its way into political talking points, particularly among the right, even Snopes has had to take steps to debunk these false claims.
Well, sorry, folks. Legalization is here to stay: 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis to some extent. And previous studies have concluded similarly to this new one. In fact, some research has even found decreased arrest rates for violent crime after legalization, suggesting that crime reduces. That’s true for this 2015 paper presented at the annual conference for the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. A 2016 study in the Journal of Drug Issues found similar results.
“This is but one study and legalization of marijuana is still relatively new, but by replicating our findings, policymakers can answer the question of how legalization affects crime,” said author Dale W. Willits, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University, in a press release.
More analysis always welcome, of course, and this new study pulled data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report between 1999 and 2016. And this research compares Colorado’s and Washington’s crime rates to 21 other states that have not legalized cannabis recreationally or medically. The researchers compare crime rates in these two states following legalization to how crime rates have changed elsewhere during that time.
Washington Sees Decline In Burglaries
“In many ways, the legalization of cannabis constitutes a grand ongoing experiment into how a major public policy initiative does or does not accomplish its expected outcomes,” said author Ruibin Lu, assistant professor of criminal justice at Stockton University, in a press release.
“Given the likelihood of more states legalizing recreational marijuana, we felt it was important to apply robust empirical methods to parse out the effects of this action on crime in the first years after legalization.”
The one change authors did notice was a decline in burglaries in Washington state. Besides that, the study didn’t uncover any permanent changes in crime patterns. There were some immediate increases to property crime in Colorado and Washington, as well as aggravated assault in Washington, but the researchers are clear that these impacts were short-term. They’re also tough to attribute to legalization.
All that being said, the study didn’t cover all crimes. The scientists didn’t take a look outside violent and property crime, so the number of arrests for driving under influence wasn’t included, for example. And their analysis didn’t take a look at how different communities were impacted. There’s always the chance that the numbers would look different when broken down by race, gender, or age.
Scientists are only beginning to understand these connections, and there’s a lot more to unpack. So far, though, the research has been encouraging. And that’s likely to help spread the wave of cannabis legalization even farther.