Marijuana Access Laws Have Little To No Impact On Crime Rates, Analysis Shows

Researchers looked at Colorado and Washington crime rates pre and post cannabis legalization to find no significant long-term changes.

A new report shines light on the impact cannabis legalization has on serious crime rates. Researchers at Washington State University, Stockton University, and the University of Utah teamed up to analyze violent crime and property crime rates in the first two states with recreational cannabis legalization.

“In general, the results suggest that marijuana policies and laws have had little effect on crime in Colorado or Washington State,” the report’s authors wrote.

The main objective of the study, according to the authors, was to “evaluate whether cannabis legalization would lead to changes in crime rates.” In order to get a clear picture of any impact, researchers compared monthly crime rates in Colorado and Washington to crime rates in 21 states that have not legalized recreational cannabis.

The team also looked at Federal Bureau of Investigation data from the Uniform Crime Report from years 1999 to 2016. By noting any changes in violent and property crimes in Colorado and Washington post-legalization and retail sales, and comparing those changes to similar criminal activity in states without recreational legalization, researchers were able to obtain their objective.

“Notably, we observed no statistically significant long-term effects of recreational cannabis laws or the initiation of retail sales on violent or property crime rates in either Colorado or Washington,” the researchers concluded.

Researchers did observe what they noted as an “immediate effect on crime” in both Colorado and Washington. In both states, rates of property crime immediately following legalization of cannabis increased for a short period, and in Washington, there was a short period of increased rates of aggravated assault.

“In summary, our results suggest that there may have been some immediate increases in crime at the point of legalization, yet there have been essentially no long-term shifts in crime rates because of legalization, aside from a decline in burglary in Washington,” the researchers explained.

The new report, “The Cannabis Effect on Crime: Time-Series Analysis of Crime in Colorado and Washington State” was published in early October in the journal Justice Quarterly, a publication from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences.

Previous Studies on Marijuana Legalization and Crime Rates

As some anti-cannabis groups continue to argue that cannabis legalization will adversely impact neighborhoods, more recent studies have reflected the opposite. In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, researchers looked at states with medical marijuana legalization.

According to the study, no statistically significant changes were found in crime rates in nearly all states after medical marijuana legalization. Interestingly, the study’s data showed a 3.7 percent drop in violent crime and a 1.5 percent increase in property crime.

Another 2018 study published in The Economic Journal suggested that states bordering Mexico who have introduced medical marijuana legalization experienced a drop in violent crime rates. A study published in the journal Preventive Medicine indicates that there is no connection between neighborhood crime rates and the existence of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Cannabis Industry News

Want more? We have it. Stay up to date on cannabis research studies by visiting our scientific research news page.

More news stories are posted each week on cannabis laws, policy and business. Find more cannabis news on our news page.