Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly claimed that marijuana legalization drives violent crime. A new study finds that, yet again, Sessions’ claims are unfounded.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Bologna in Italy and recently published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, focuses on a two-year window (2013 and 2014) when recreational marijuana was legal in Washington, but still illegal next door in Oregon.
During that period, researchers studied a variety of data on violent crime rates and substance abuse in 11 counties in Washington and 10 in Oregon. Instead of an increase in crime, as Sessions would have likely predicted, researchers found that the legalization of recreational marijuana was linked to a 15 to 30 percent decrease in the number of reported rapes, as well as a 10 to 20 percent decrease in the number of thefts.
As Herb reports, researchers concluded that legalization itself “reduces the likelihood of [cannabis users and growers] engaging in violent activities.” They concluded that it also reduces the chances that people growing and selling marijuana will be involved in gang activity, and added that legal, regulated marijuana markets free up police to focus on other crimes. Researchers also found that access to legal weed caused residents in states where pot is legal significantly reduce their binge consumption of “violence-inducing” substances like alcohol and cocaine.
Sessions has frequently echoed the concerns of the Attorney General of Nebraska, Doug Peterson, who has claimed that Colorado’s legal marijuana market has led to increased crime in neighboring Nebraska. In 2014, Nebraska brought a case before the Supreme Court, claiming damages caused by Colorado’s legal weed market. The court dismissed the case, however, and, as Herb notes, Sessions’ claims were debunked by Snopes, which found very little evidence that legal weed boosted violent crime in either Colorado or its neighboring states.
Not only does the study in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization also debunk Sessions’ claims, but it also mirrors a 2016 study, which found that legal medical cannabis had “no negative spillover effects” and resulted in significant decreases in violent crime across 11 western states.