Cannabis Legalization’s Impact on Crime Reduction is Underestimated


A recent study from the USDA’s Economic Research Service and Appalachian State University suggests a new impact of cannabis legalization. Reports show crime reduction evidence in areas with legal medical and recreational cannabis, more than before. Researchers gathered data from the FBI on crime and cannabis. Together, they found a distinct decrease in violent and property crime in areas where cannabis, medical or recreational, is legal. The most impacted communities sit along the Mexican border. 

However, researchers from the USDA and Appalachian State University say that this data is inconclusive. The FBI relies on local police departments to submit their crime data to come up with their statistics. However, it’s completely voluntary if a police department submits their data to the FBI or not. Therefore, there could potentially be a wider gap in numbers. But researchers could only speculate at the true numbers with simple estimates based on current trends. 

The working paper, titled “Smoke and Fears: The Effects of Marijuana Prohibition on Crime,” discusses how researchers, and a representative from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, took the FBI’s information and came to their own conclusions. 


“U.S. drug policy presumes prohibition reduces crime,” the working paper states. “Recently states have enacted medical marijuana laws creating a natural experiment to test this hypothesis but is impeded by severe measurement error with available data. We demonstrate uncorrected measurement error or assuming homogeneous policy effects leads to underestimation of crime reduction from ending marijuana prohibition.” 

“Our results indicate that [medical marijuana laws] result in significant reductions in both violent and property crime rates, with larger effects in Mexican border states,” researchers reported. “While these results for violent crime rates are consistent with previously reported evidence, we are the first paper to report such an effect on property crime as well. Moreover, the estimated effects of [medical marijuana laws] on property crime rates are substantially larger, which is not surprising given property crimes are more prevalent.”


Researchers came to the conclusion that the criminalization of cannabis doesn’t help reduce crime. This is despite the fact that the federal government continues to use criminalization as a means of crime reduction. 

It is notable that an agency representative from the USDA actively participated in the working paper study. Their opinion doesn’t represent the organization’s opinion, or the opinion of the federal government. However, they did come to a similar conclusion to that of the study. The representative learned and agreed that criminalization doesn’t reduce crime rates in ways that legalization and decriminalization does.

With this input, there may be change in the future sooner rather than later. As more information becomes available, we will update you with the latest.

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