The US state of Colorado legalised cannabis for recreational usage in 2012. At the time, Tom Allman, a sheriff in California, warned that Colorado could look forward to a sudden increase in crime. Interviewed on television, he declared, “Thugs put on masks, they come to your house, they kick in your door. They point guns at you and say, ‘Give me your marijuana, give me your money.’”
Tom Allman was talking shit
Allman was obviously wrong. A study by the University of Texas at Dallas featured in PLOS ONE. This is a peer-reviewed, open access scientific journal. This study found that legalising cannabis actually led to less crime against both people and property.
Data for the study came from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. It accounted for such variables as unemployment and poverty, age, educational attainment, how many police officers there were and even beer consumption. It covered all 50 states from 1990 to 2006.
Crime falls around places that deal in legal cannabis
The study found that legalising cannabis did not result in more crime and actually resulted in less. It determined that, specifically, there was no effect on rates of robbery and burglary. A study by the University of California, Irvine, published in the Journal of Urban Economics in 2017, discerned that crime rates in the neighbourhoods of coffee shops in Denver fell significantly. Crime in adjacent neighbourhoods fell not at all. According to the study, this was because of heightened security and policing. So were dispelled claims that there would be more crime against places that store cannabis.
The study also discovered that legalising cannabis might cause a fall in the number of crimes fuelled by alcohol, as so many are. This is because people do cannabis instead of partaking of alcohol, an argument also made in a study by Mark Kleiman and David Boyum in 2002.
If cannabis is legal, criminal organisations are less busy
There was another study, this time by the Norwegian School of Economics and the Pennsylvania State University Department of Sociology and Criminology and published in The Economic Journal in 2017. It recognised that there was less crime in states bordering Mexico that had legalised cannabis. There was, in particular, less crime associated with drug trafficking. This is possibly because, with cannabis legal, Mexican drug trafficking organisations were less busy. If cannabis is legal, there’s no need to steal cars to transport it. There are also no drive-by shootings to scare off the customers of rivals. Legalisation might even cause drug smugglers to shut down altogether because cannabis is their largest export product. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Tom Allman.
Legalising cannabis means fewer people undertake illegal activities surrounding its production, distribution and use. With less of a burden placed on the judicial system, violent crime can receive more attention.
Does legalising cannabis mean there are more traffic accidents? Why, no.
Three studies (this one, this one and this one) examined the relationship between cannabis legalisation and traffic fatalities. They found that legalising cannabis caused a fall rather than a rise in traffic fatalities. While more drivers tested positive for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis), less tested positive for alcohol. This again highlighted that people replaced alcohol with cannabis. While both drugs impair driving ability, people who have taken THC tend to drive more carefully, but those under the influence of alcohol take more risks.
Leaving cannabis illegal causes more rather than less crime because branding someone a criminal makes it harder for them to get a job. This makes them more likely to turn to crime. Crime often begins with cannabis possession, so legalisation breaks the cycle of crime.