Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters March 6 from the Department of Justice that he thinks there is “real violence” behind the use of recreational marijuana, but Colorado’s marijuana advocates and others across the country are using state and local-level data to push back on Trump administration claims that legalizing marijuana somehow increases crime rates.”
Sessions also told reporters he had a meeting the same day with the attorney general of Nebraska, who has expressed concerns about marijuana being transported from Colorado into Nebraska. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved,” Sessions said.
Following Monday’s remarks, research groups promptly released data that has been compiled over the past several years to refute Session’s claims.
Studies indicate the recreational marijuana industry has not caused increases in violent crime, and that a well-regulated industry can instead decrease crime rates by curtailing black market cartels.
Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, spoke to The Colorado Statesman about local data that researchers have accumulated in strong defense of the regulated marijuana industry in Colorado.
“The Denver, Aurora and Edgewater police departments have not shown any link between violent crime and marijuana,” said Kelly. “In fact, the statistics trend in the opposite direction.”
Colorado alone has compiled several research studies demonstrating that legalization has not facilitated a spike in violent crime. During the first year of the implementation of Amendment 64, Denver experienced a 2.2 percent decrease in violent crime rates and an 8.9 percent reduction in property crime offenses, according to research conducted by the Drug Policy Alliance.
Many other reports have corroborated that data, including findings by the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the FBI Uniform Crime Report and a study conducted by a student research group from Metropolitan State University.
The Colorado Department of Public Safety report showed a 6 percent decrease in the violent crime rate statewide from 2009 to 2014.
Other jurisdictions that legalized the recreational marijuana industry have experienced similar declines in violent crime. In Washington State, violent crime rates decreased by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014. Portland, Oregon, saw crime rates drop since legalizing the recreational marijuana industry as well.
Another comprehensive study published by a criminology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas demonstrated that legalized marijuana was not a likely indicator of crime rates and that legalizing the industry can actually reduce homicide and assault rates. Dr. Robert Morris’ study tracked crime rates across all 50 states between 1990 and 2006, when 11 states legalized marijuana for medical use.
“We found no increase in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization, Morris told Science Daily. “In fact, we found some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault.”
Researchers have pointed to a few reasons why legalizing the marijuana industry has helped reduce violent crime rates. Marijuana-related crimes are often committed by underground cartels. Because the illegal cartels cannot access the court systems, they resort to violence when settling territorial disputes or business conflicts. As a result, legalizing recreational dispensaries can reduce violent crime rates by diminishing the prevalence and influence of these black market groups.
“Since legal programs opened, we’ve seen a drop in violent crime in Denver and in Washington State,” said Taylor West, the deputy director for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “We’re not seeing any increase in crime rates through marijuana — we’re seeing lower crime rates, and there are good rational reasons for that: We’re really beginning to cripple the criminal market, which is where violence actually occurs.
“When businesses are operating in a legal regulated environment,” West added. “They don’t have to rely on violence to deal with business issues,” said West. “States that bring this market out of the underground and into a regulated system give businesses nonviolent ways to handle things.”