The US example: A brief history on the criminalisation of marijuana
The first anti-marijuana laws in the United States of America can be traced to the 1910s and 20s. These laws – prominent in the Midwest and Southwest – were predominantly directed at Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. Many of these immigrants were refugees seeking to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution. To this day, many Latino and black communities are subjected to disproportionate drug sentences.
In June 1971, President Richard Nixon commenced an elaborate movement called the ‘War on Drugs’. This movement involved the increase in size and presence of federal drug control agencies. Measures such as no-knock warrants and mandatory sentencing were employed to keep substance use at bay. In this same year, Nixon temporarily placed marijuana as a Schedule I substance – the most restrictive drug category in the United States (US).
The presidency of Ronald Reagan marked the beginning of the worst incarcerations on the substance in American history. This is largely due to his expansion on Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ policy. The number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offences rose from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.
In the US today, marijuana is legal for medical use in 33 states and Washington, D.C. It is also legal for recreational use in 10 of those states and the nation’s capital, Washington D.C.
The attitudes of the general public towards marijuana consumption are a far-cry from what they used to be in the 1990s and early 2000s. According to a study carried out by Pew Research Center in 2001, only 31% of Americans supported the legalisation of marijuana for medical and recreational use. In a poll conducted in 2018, it was discovered that the support for its legalisation had doubled – it was now 62%.
Over 60 percent of Americans now support cannabis legalisation. Source
Statistics and studies on crime rate reductions
Most opponents of marijuana legalisation often stake their claims on one precept: marijuana use increases crime rates. According to Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general of the US, legalising marijuana would inspire nationwide criminal activity. However, studies have proven this claim to be false.
Contrary to popular belief, there are numerous studies which show that the legalisation of cannabis – for medicinal and recreational – can in fact reduce the crime rate in cities and communities.
According to a study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organisation, it was found that the legalisation of cannabis reduced crimes such as rape and property crimes significantly. According to this study, rapes were reduced by up to 30% while thefts were reduced by up to 20%. This study also notes that the consumption of other drugs and alcohol significantly reduced. This study focused on the adjacent states of Washington (end of 2012) and Oregon (end of 2014).
The results in the above study echo the results of an academic study carried out by Evelina Gavrilova, Takuma Kamada and Floris Zoutman – Two economists and a criminologist. The results of this study show that the introduction of medical marijuana laws led to a decrease in violent crimes by 12.5% in states that border Mexico. These crimes include homicides, aggravated assaults and robberies. It was also noted that when an inland state passed a medical marijuana law, the violence at its closest border state reduced significantly.
Researchers found that among the states which border Mexico, California witnessed the highest violent crime reduction. There, crime reduced by 15%. Arizona recorded the least reduction with 7%. Robberies fell by 19% and murder dropped by 10%. Of all crimes documented, homicides fell the most by an astonishing 41%.
According to this study, the reduction in crime rates after marijuana laws have been passed can be linked to four possible explanations. These explanations offer no concrete evidence to the positive effects of marijuana laws, however -- they are only assumed explanations for the feat.
- Assumption 1: Marijuana invokes feelings of euphoria and elation which reduces the likelihood of engaging in violent activities.
- Assumption 2: If cannabis were a substitute for violence inducing substances – like alcohol and cocaine – its effects would be reinforced.
- Assumption 3: The legalization of recreational marijuana may cause a reallocation of police efforts to other types of offenses asides cannabis pushers and consumers.
- Assumption 4: Medical marijuana laws may have significantly reduced the role of gangs and criminals in local marijuana markets.
The crime reduction trend isn’t only evident in border states. Violent crime reduced by 11% in Colorado, and so did traffic fatalities. Source
Legal marijuana laws’ effects on crime rates is surprising yet comforting. For a drug long vilified to be vindicated to this extent is an eye-opener for many. These statistics suggest that marijuana and its users are not all they are painted to be. At day’s end, these statistics could prove beneficial to the supporters of cannabis legalisation.