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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Actually, Medical Marijuana Legalization Could Reduce Crime

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 12:18 PM

  • City of Weed Police Department
  • Safe for a reason

After confining legal weed to the more run-down parts of town for almost a decade, San Francisco can finally relax a bit and let medical cannabis dispensaries expand into other neighborhoods.

It would be a good thing, because it could reduce crime, a study published last week suggests.

Spurred on by police, the anti-pot crowd has for years voiced fears of a crime wave following the opening of a marijuana store in their neighborhoods. The marijuana-equals-crime formula is trotted out almost every time the issue is discussed. (Just last week, an Outer Mission neighborhood activist told us that Leland Avenue in Vis Valley is a bad place for a cannabis club because the "Sunnydale [housing projects] are nearby.")

San Francisco has had legal weed for almost 20 years, and we're still waiting for the crime wave. We may be waiting forever: states that legalized medical marijuana saw a reduction in crime, according to a study published last week in the journal PLSONE.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, looked at crime data from 1990 to 2006. They looked at states that had legalized weed, and looked at states that hadn't.

All of of America saw a drop in violent crime during that time period. However, in the states where pot has been legal -- California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Hawaii -- the drop in crime was even steeper, the researchers found.

"The raw number of homicides, robberies, and aggravated assaults also appear to be lower for states passing [medical marijuana legalization] as compared to other states, especially from 1998-2006," they write. "These preliminary results suggest MML may have a crime-reducing effect," but they do warn that there are plenty of other unaccounted-for factors, from the economy to the weather, that could have had an impact.

This is heartening to drug prohibition opponents and legalization backers, but the Huffington Post makes a valid point: The data is only through 2006, when the California medical cannabis industry as we know it today did not exist. There were over 30 dispensaries in San Francisco at that time, but none in San Jose, for example.

Still, the study does poke a hole in law enforcement's persistent argument that legalizing weed equals more crime, something that's still the official position of the California Police Chiefs Association.

If there were hard data supporting the position that marijuana legalization leads to crime, it would surely have been presented long ago. As it is, what "scant" evidence there is suggests just the opposite.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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