STUDY: Medical Marijuana Laws Associated With Minor Drop In Assaults, Homicides

CREDIT: Associated Press


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Legalizing medical marijuana did not cause an increase in any category of crime in states that have done so, according to a new study. In fact, medical marijuana laws have been associated with decreases in some violent crime, particularly homicides and assaults. The study by University of Texas at Dallas researchers is the latest piece of research to debunk assertions that marijuana legalization is linked to crime.

“In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes,” write the authors in a study published in PLOS One.

In fact, they surmise, “[g]iven the relationship between alcohol and violent crime, it may turn out that substituting marijuana for alcohol leads to minor reductions in violent crimes that can be detected at the state level.”

The study analyzes Federal Bureau of Investigation arrest data between 1990 and 2006 in 11 states where medical marijuana became legal during that time period, controlling for the drug crimes that would be directly affected by legalization. But it does not draw conclusions about the reason why crime held steady and even dropped in some categories.

Legalization proponents in the law enforcement community have argued that creating a legal market would reduce violent crime because it is the gangs and drug cartels driven by the black market that are responsible for the bulk of the violent activity related to drugs. If this reasoning contributed, then legalization of recreational pot could lead to a more significant reduction in these violent crimes, since medical marijuana is limited to those with a doctor’s prescription.

The researchers noted that the drops in assaults and homicides were small (about 2.4 percent), and could have been caused by other variables not accounted for. But this is one of several studies to find that medical marijuana laws yield no increases in crime. A 2012 study found that medical marijuana dispensaries don’t lead to increases in crime in the neighborhoods where they are located. And a 2013 University of Chicago study found that medical marijuana laws were associated with a decrease in fatalities, contrary to the concerns of some about driving under the influence.