The legalization of cannabis sets off a number of far-reaching ripple effects. It touches everything from public health to local economies to law enforcement policies, and much more. The ripple effects of legal weed also impact violent crime. Here’s what happens to violent crime when marijuana is legalized.
Violent Crime and Legal Weed
The short answer to the question, what happens to violent crime when marijuana is legalized, is simple: it decreases. That decrease happens largely because legal weed disrupts the black market. At the same time, legalization places cannabis into the legal economy. That makes it much easier to track and regulate.
Of course, there are tons of other concerns that weed’s move into the legal economy raises. For example, it’s important that a handful of massive corporations doesn’t immediately monopolize the newly legal weed market. Such a development could potentially turn legal weed into the next Big Pharma.
Similarly, it’s crucial that we keep the legal weed economy from repeating the racial inequities that define the War on Drugs. It’s counterproductive if the legal weed industry ends up profiting only wealthy white business owners while millions of people of color continue dealing with the injustices of prohibition.
With all that said, it does appear that legalization helps decrease violent crime. In fact, this is exactly what a study published in November 2017 found. In this study, researchers reviewed FBI crime reports and homicide records. They looked at records from 1994 through 2012.
Researchers found that legal marijuana coincided with noticeable drops in violent crime. These changes were most pronounced in states bordering Mexico.
In these states, violent crime dropped by an average of 13 percent when cannabis was legalized—even if it was only medical marijuana. More specifically, border states saw a 41 percent decrease in the number of homicides directly linked to drugs. Similarly, robbery decreased by 19 percent and murder rates fell by 10 percent.
Shooting Down the Myths
Studies like this help counter many of the stereotypes and negative myths that continue to swirl around the topic of legalization. In particular, these stats help shoot down the myth that legal weed will lead to more crime and more violence.
Interestingly, the fact-checking website Snopes.com has already classified this myth as false. “Although this claim appears to be making its way into political talking points regarding recreational marijuana,” the site states, “no credible evidence has been provided to support it.”
And Snopes is right. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the myth that legal weed leads to more crime is getting new life. One of the first things Sessions did after being appointed AG was start going after cannabis. And one of his main speaking points is the idea that legalization spurs more violent crime.
“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions said in early 2017. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”
Unfortunately for Sessions, data doesn’t back up the claim that weed produces more violence. In fact, studies like the one published last November suggest the exact opposite.
Final Hit: Here’s What Happens To Violent Crime When Marijuana Is Legalized
So, what happens to violent crime when marijuana is legalized? From what we can tell so far, it looks like legal weed helps reduce violent crime.
Legalization breaks up the black market. It decreases the need to smuggle drugs across borders. And it significantly cuts down on the likelihood that violence will erupt when people try to buy or sell weed.
For example, just last month DJ Khaled’s future brother in law was shot and killed during a weed deal gone bad. If he could have just gone to a dispensary and purchased weed legally, the entire outcome would probably be different.
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