An abundance of anecdotal evidence tells us the legalization and commercialization of recreational pot might increase crime. Few dare talk about it because marijuana advocates and the industry gaslight them as devotees of “Reefer Madness,” a 1936 film that showed high school students quickly going mad after smoking marijuana.
The men and women of Colorado’s law enforcement agencies aren’t sitting around watching an old melodramatic film. Instead, they are responding to more crimes that involve marijuana. They see everything from illegal grows, to deadly car crashes involving stoned drivers, to home invasions by burglars stealing pot, to domestic violence calls and homicides.
“Gustavo Del Sol Sanchez was shot to death last January during a robbery at a suspected illegal marijuana grow off Colorado 94,” writes Gazette reporter Kaitlin Durbin in conveying examples provided by local authorities. “That incident later led to a shootout in which William Bacorn, a suspect in Sanchez’s death, was killed.”
Colorado Springs and El Paso County law enforcement officials have for several years blamed the metro area’s rising crime on a proliferation of legal and illegal pot. Though compelling, an abundance of anecdotal evidence falls short of proving their claim.
For that reason, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and his staff are out to prove their suspicion. The agency began meticulously collecting time-stamped data this year that will show how often marijuana is linked to crime. They are counting crimes in which presence of marijuana was illegal, or a motivation for the crime. They are not including crimes in which legal marijuana only happened to be in the mix, and likely had no nexus to suspected criminal behavior.
Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, and to date has the most permissive laws of any developed jurisdiction in the world.
“We owe it to the Legislature and the community to do some research and (produce) data on the impact of legalization,” Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Huffor told The Gazette. “Anecdotally, we can see a rise in crime related to marijuana. But now we have a responsibility to prove it.”
Local officials aren’t alone in suspecting marijuana for a rise in crime. A media report last year cited by Forbes explains how law enforcement in Sonoma County, Calif., blames recreational pot for a dramatic rise in home invasions, robberies and other violent crimes.
Research in the journal Psychological Medicine and Psychology Today concludes continued use of cannabis causes violent behavior as a direct result of changes in brain function.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s most recent annual report on crimes shows an increase in crime since legalization began in 2013. Crime decreased in most other states throughout the same period.
Correlation is not cause, and anecdotes alone prove nothing much. We cannot say with certainty our state’s careless promotion of pot leads to more crime.
We can say with certainty there is reason for concern. We can also say with certainty the law enforcement community would do everyone a service to determine what role recreational, commercialized marijuana, along with illegal pot, might play in our statewide and local dilemma of rising crime.
The public and elected officials should applaud and assist the El Paso County sheriff’s effort to get real answers. We need to know the truth about the real costs of the least-regulated, for-profit marijuana free-for-all in the civilized world.
The Gazette editorial Board