Study Finds Legalizing Marijuana Cuts Violence Rates in Border States

States along the Mexican border that have legalized medical marijuana have seen their rates of violent crime drop.

New findings suggest that legalizing marijuana can reduce violence in states that border Mexico.

A study published this month in The Economic Journal investigated the crime rates in states along the Mexican border in relation to the states legalizing medical cannabis. The rate of violent crime – including robberies, murders, and aggravated assaults — dropped by an average of 12.5 percent in marijuana-legal states after their respective cannabis laws were implemented.

According to the researchers, most of the marijuana consumed in the United States originates in Mexico. Legalizing marijuana in the U.S. cuts into the illegal drug trade, currently controlled by seven major cartels.

“These laws allow local farmers to grow marijuana that can then be sold to dispensaries where it is sold legally,” study author and economist Evelina Gavrilova told The Guardian. “These growers are in direct competition with Mexican drug cartels that are smuggling the marijuana into the U.S. As a result, the cartels get much less business.”

These drug trafficking organizations have long been a major contributor to violent crime in U.S. border states.

“Whenever there is a medical marijuana law we observe that crime at the border decreases because suddenly there is a lot less smuggling and a lot less violence associated with that,” Gavrilova added.

Of those states bordering Mexico, California saw the highest overall reduction in violent crime (15 percent) and Arizona the lowest (7 percent).

Overall with medical marijuana legalization, robberies fell by 19 percent in border states, murder dropped by 10 percent, and homicides related to the illegal drug trade fell by 41 percent. The study also found that medical marijuana legalization lead to a reduction in crime in the nearest border state.

“When the effect on crime is so significant, it’s obviously better to regulate marijuana and allow people to pay taxes on it rather than make it illegal,” Gavrilova said. “For me it’s a no brainer that it should be legal and should be regulated, and the proceeds go to the Treasury.”

For the study, Gavrilova and her colleagues used FBI uniform crime reports and supplementary homicide data from between 1994 and 2012.

Findings Contradict Sessions’ Anti-Marijuana Argument

The study’s findings directly contradict U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who claims that legalizing marijuana causes violent crime.

Sessions this month rescinded a federal policy that had directed attorney generals not to prioritize enforcing federal marijuana law in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational purposes. He has said the Justice Department will adopt “responsible policies” for enforcing federal marijuana law, indicating the agency may attempt to interfere with marijuana states.

Twenty-nine states across the U.S. have implemented laws permitting medical marijuana so far. Nine states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

The study, which looks at violence rates following the legalization of medical marijuana only, suggests that full recreational legalization in states would have an even greater impact on the illegal drug trade and subsequently violence rates.

The full study, “Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organisations? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime,” is available to read in full through Wiley Online Library.

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