A new study, “Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime” published in The Economic Journalfound that in states that border Mexico, legalized marijuana is reducing violence by an average of 13 percent. Why? Researchers found that legal marijuana reduced the need for individuals to rely on black-market products from Mexico, thus blocking the drug cartels and decreasing crime.
But is there any other connection that can be made between legalized marijuana and crime?
We spoke with Leonard Sipes, author of the website Crime in America and retired Senior Public Affairs Specialist and Social Media Manager for the Federal Criminal Justice Agency. Sipes spent his life working in the criminal justice system, first as a police officer and then later working in many national and state level roles, including ten years spent as the Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
Sipes’ experience has meant that he’s been afforded a unique, inside look at many different aspects of the criminal justice system. In his experience, marijuana and crime are linked, though their relationship is difficult to define.
According to Sipes, research by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) revealed that over 50 percent of individuals have some type of drug in their system upon arrest. The most popular drug of choice? Marijuana.
“That’s not to say that using marijuana causes crime. It’s a statistical correlation, nothing more,” Sipes hurriedly explained. “However, I will admit that throughout my time in the criminal justice system, I found that marijuana was a day-to-day part of existence for many.”
For most individuals, marijuana use is just one piece of a much more complicated puzzle. It can be incredibly difficult to separate a crime from the drugs, alcohol, or other influences that may have inspired it.
“I’m convinced that people are arrested not because they’re using marijuana, but because they’re being stupid and marijuana happens to be a part of it,” said Sipes. “If people used common sense, then I don’t think this would be an issue. We are way past the days where marijuana crimes should be a priority. We have bigger fish to fry than someone lighting up a joint.”
Allison Margolin and Lauren Estevez, attorneys at the law firm Margolin & Lawrence, agreed. From what they’ve witnessed, “Marijuana crimes overwhelmingly only involve marijuana.”
Margolin and Estevez continued saying, “Now that it is decriminalized, there are fewer prosecutions and arrests. The courts are emptier. Many of the prosecutors, court clerks and others who worked in the criminal justice system are now turning to restorative justice because so much of their day to day work involved prosecuting cannabis crimes for decades.”
And to take that idea even further, there’s even some argument in favor of the concept that legalization promotes staying within the law because any deviation may not just mean jail time, but loss of millions in revenue.
“Like any highly regulated industry, thriving in cannabis is going to require a thorough understanding of the regulations and strict compliance with them,” said Margolin and Estevez. “The Controlled Substances Act is also still in effect on the Federal Level, and the protections operators have from federal prosecution only apply if you are in strict compliance with state law.”
Still, that doesn’t mean that legal cannabis has no consequences. “To suggest that it’s a benign drug and that it doesn’t have negative consequences is a myth,” said Sipes. “People can involve themselves in stupid actions while under the influence of marijuana. Every drug out there has the ability to affect different people in different ways, so it’s always important for people to be careful.”
“However, I’m still for legalization,” Sipes continued. “People have a right to choose. There are many legal things that aren’t in American’s best interest, so unless we can give a really wonderful reason why marijuana shouldn’t be allowed, there’s no stopping it. We just don’t have the time to be dealing with marijuana. That’s in the past. We need to move forward.”
Margolin and Estevez are also anxious to move forward in a society where cannabis is legal. “To us, it’s a fundamental aspect of liberty,” they said. “It’s a different world since [the passing of] Prop 64. People are free to access their medicine without fear. Adults have full access to their freedom to use cannabis for fun, performance enhancement, or anxiety relief. The economic benefits have been significant as well – the City of Los Angeles has already collected $2M in fees for cannabis applications, and they haven’t even started on the taxes yet.”
So, while it may be difficult to come to a conclusion on whether marijuana is good or bad for violent crime, one that that we can all agree on: legalization needs to happen.
If you’d like to join our End 4/20 Shame series discussing various hot topics around cannabis and ending the stigma, contact firstname.lastname@example.org your story or use the #End420Shame hashtag on social media.