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New Study Adds to Evidence That Cannabis Legalization Reduces Violent Crime

Jeff Sessions' attempts to interfere with the legal cannabis market may actually increase violent crime along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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A new research study reports that violent crime has been decreasing significantly in canna-legal states that border Mexico, adding to a growing pool of evidence connecting legal cannabis with crime reduction. The study, recently published in The Economic Journal, reports that states on the Mexican border that have legalized medical marijuana saw their rates of violent crime fall by an average of 13%. “Whenever there is a medical marijuana law we observe that crime at the border decreases because suddenly there is a lot less smuggling and a lot less violence associated with that,” economist Evelina Gavrilova, lead author of the study, told The Guardian.

Gavrilova and her fellow researchers looked at FBI crime data from 1994 to 2012 and examined whether or not crime rates fell after states enacted medical marijuana programs. The greatest reduction was seen in California, where violent crimes decreased by 15% over the time period being studied. Researchers also broke down the rates of individual crimes, and found that robberies decreased by an average of 19% in these states, with murders decreasing by 10%. Murders directly connected to the drug trade fell by 41% in these canna-legal border states, supporting the “theory that decriminalization of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organizations,” the authors wrote.

Although cartels also smuggle meth, cocaine, and heroin into the United States, cannabis is one of their most lucrative products, considering that it only costs around $75 to produce a pound of Mexican weed, which can then be resold for up to $6,000. Medical marijuana laws “allow local farmers to grow marijuana that can then be sold to dispensaries where it is sold legally,” Gavrilova explained to The Guardian. “These growers are in direct competition with Mexican drug cartels that are smuggling the marijuana into the U.S. As a result, the cartels get much less business.”

The results of this study dovetail with numerous other studies that have found that legal cannabis is not connected with increases in crime. Data from both the Washington State police and the FBI confirm that violent crime has been decreasing in Washington since recreational cannabis was legalized. A federally funded study recently found that crime rates near medical cannabis dispensaries in South Los Angeles were lower than crime rates near alcohol and tobacco stores, and another study concluded that states with legal medical marijuana saw a reduction in the rates of murders and robberies.

Despite the growing evidence connecting legal cannabis with crime reduction, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other prohibitionists continue to argue that the opposite is true. Sessions has constantly threatened to crack down on legal marijuana, and his recent dismantling of the Cole memo gives the federal government additional powers to interfere with state-legal cannabis operations. This study suggests that by crippling the legal cannabis industry, the federal government would be shifting the marijuana market back in favor of the cartels, which would lead to an increase in violent crime — the exact opposite of what government officials claim they are trying to achieve with federal drug policy.

“When the effect on crime is so significant, it’s obviously better to regulate marijuana and allow people to pay taxes on it rather than make it illegal,” Gavrilova said to The Guardian. “For me it’s a no brainer that it should be legal and should be regulated, and the proceeds go to the [U.S.] Treasury.”