Legalizing medical marijuana shows no effect on crime rates in US states

Those who oppose medical marijuana legislation often cite the strong association between marijuana use and criminal activity. This includes the U.S. federal government, which continues to classify marijuana as a schedule one drug.

We analyzed city-level data from states across the U.S. and found that medical marijuana laws have little effect on violent or property crime in nearly all medical marijuana states. In the case of California, the crime rates actually show a substantial decrease of around 20 percent.

A natural experiment

Medical marijuana laws represent a major change in marijuana policy in the U.S. Since California passed the first medical marijuana law in 1996, 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalised medical marijuana.

Several recent studies have found that marijuana use has increased among the general population (including non-patients) in medical marijuana states. It is difficult to disentangle causal effects of marijuana use from spurious correlations because of individual heterogeneity. Individuals who choose to use marijuana are likely different from those who don’t.

The passage of medical marijuana laws offers researchers a good natural experiment to study the causal effects of marijuana use on a variety of health outcomes, including drunk driving, hard drug use and opioid painkiller use.

Users and crime

The perception that marijuana use leads to crime can be traced back to the 1930s. In an effort to gain public support for marijuana prohibition, the Narcotics Bureau chief Harry Anslinger collected dubious anecdotes of marijuana causing crime and violence in his infamous Gore Files.

There is indeed a strong correlation between marijuana use and criminal activity. For example, the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program shows that more than half of adult male arrestees tested positive for marijuana use. Financial needs can lead to property crime for some heavy users.

Research also shows that long-term neuropsychological effects of marijuana can harm the brain, causing violent behaviors. Some studies have identified brain abnormalities in MRI images among casual and abstinent users.

Nevertheless, such correlation could be entirely spurious because marijuana users have a higher propensity to commit crimes. Only people who are willing to break laws would use marijuana under prohibition.

Effects of medical marijuana laws on crime

In our paper, we used data on criminal offense, spanning more than 25 years (1988–2013). We analyzed relatively large cities with at least 50,000 residents. In addition to traditional regression analysis, we adopted the state-of-the-art synthetic control method that allows us to estimate the effects of medical marijuana laws in each city.

To make cities with and without medical marijuana laws comparable, we created a synthetic city from a pool of cities without medical marijuana laws. That way the pre-law crime rates in the synthetic city and the city of interest are as close as possible.

We then used the post-law crime rate in the synthetic city as an estimate for the medical marijuana city’s counterfactual crime rate – the rate you would expect if the medical marijuana law had not been passed. The difference in post-law crime rates between the synthetic city and the medical marijuana city is the causal effect of medical marijuana law on crime.

We found that the actual crime rates in medical marijuana cities generally move closely with the synthetic cities. This suggests no substantial effect on both violent and property crime. The results remain similar when we look at specific crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and theft.

Our findings show that we can safely rule out that medical marijuana laws and the associated marijuana use cause increased crime. The strong correlation between marijuana use and criminal activity is mostly spurious.

Californian experience

Violent and property crime rates dropped by 20 percent since California passed medical marijuana legislation more than two decades ago. It was reported that there are more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks or McDonalds in cities like Los Angeles.

California’s medical marijuana law may have shrunk the marijuana black market and its associated violence. It may have helped to reallocate police resources towards deterring crime instead of enforcing drug laws. The presence of dispensaries may also deter crime. They are required to deal in cash and thus invest heavily in security.

Another study found a similar decrease in violent crime in states bordering Mexico, including California. It argues that medical marijuana legislation reduced crime associated with drug trafficking through Mexican cartels.

The U.S. experience suggests that most stigmas associated with marijuana use are not supported by empirical evidence. Although medical marijuana laws increase heavy marijuana use among non-patients, they do not lead to negative social outcomes.

Our study provides robust evidence that medical marijuana legislation does not contribute to crime, and possibly helps to reduce it. This conclusion may relieve a major concern for countries considering to legalize medical marijuana, including New Zealand and Canada. The U.S. experience is unique, especially because of its war on drugs. But the main conclusion that increased marijuana use does not cause more crime likely applies in other countries.

The Conversation

Yu-Wei Luke Chu is a senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

First state to legalize weed has lowest unemployment rate in the country

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Three years after legalizing cannabis, Colorado has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. “While the national unemployment rate dropped to 4.3 percent in May, the lowest since 2001, Colorado’s jobless rate is the nation’s lowest at 2.3 percent,” CNBC reported Monday.

According to governor John Hickenlooper, multiple factors have contributed to Colorado’s job growth, including the state’s business-friendly policies. He touts the state’s very low business tax rate, noting Colorado has “one of the lowest business income tax levels at just a little over 4.6 percent.”

This approach has helped create over 60,000 jobs in the clean energy sector, a fact that should please both business and environmental advocates. One of the main factors in Colorado’s successful economy, however, is undeniably the cannabis industry.

Last year, cannabis generated $1.3 billion in profit, which yielded nearly $200 million in tax revenue that the state is using for various programs, including education, substance abuse and cannabis awareness programs for youth, and even the Attorney General’s office.

Further, with over a billion dollars in business, jobs undoubtedly follow.

In 2015, alone, the state’s cannabis industry created 18,000 new full-time jobs. As The Washington Post reported:

These indirect impacts of marijuana legalization came from increased demand on local goods and services: growers rent warehouse space and purchase sophisticating lighting and irrigation equipment, for instance. Marijuana retailers similarly rely on other companies, like contractors, lawyers and book-keeping services, to conduct their own businesses.

That growth has continued. In July of last year, CBS reported that according to the Marijuana Business Daily, “Colorado now has 27,000 occupational licensees, up from about 16,000 at the end of 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.”

Though clean energy jobs currently outnumber on-the-record cannabis jobs by roughly 35,000, the speed of job creation appears far quicker with weed. According to the Denver Business Journal, for example, the clean energy sector created 1,583 new jobs in 2014. By comparison, the Marijuana Business Daily reported in May of 2014 that less than six months after legalization, the cannabis industry had already generated between 1,000 and 2,000 new jobs — roughly the same number of jobs as clean energy created in the course of the whole year.

Further, according to a 2016 Clean Jobs Colorado report by the organization Environmental Entrepreneurs, Colorado already had 62,000 clean energy jobs in 2015 — roughly where it rests now — making that industry’s growth apparently slower than the 18,000 new cannabis-related jobs the Post reported for the same year (it’s important to note, however, that some of these jobs already existed but were part of the black market and were counted as “new” when the industry was legalized).

This is promising news not just for Colorado, but the broader market. “Cannabis-related companies now employ an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 full and part-time workers, according to a new report by Marijuana Business Daily,” CBS noted last year.

As Business Insider pointed out in March, “California, home to the world’s sixth largest economy, fully legalized marijuana last November. Its state capital region alone could see 20,000 jobs created if it becomes a hub for the industry.”

According to a report from the New Data Frontier, which focuses on cannabis industry data, there could be as many as 283,000 jobs in cannabis by 2020. Business Insider points out that this figure will outpace the manufacturing industry, which is expected to lose 814,000 jobs by 2024.

In Colorado, where Governor Hickenlooper initially opposed legalization but changed his mind when he saw the positive results, there are yet to be serious negative consequences. Though Hickenlooper told CNBC it’s still “too soon to know” what the downsides may be, he remained optimistic. “We don’t see more people doing more marijuana in Colorado after legalization. It’s through a regulated process now,” he said.

“But we haven’t seen a big spike in teenage consumption, we haven’t seen a big spike in any consumption.”

It appears the only spike so far has been in jobs, coupled with other forward-thinking developments like the growth of the clean energy sector and the freedom for businesses to thrive.

This piece was originally published at Anti-Media, and is republished here under Creative Commons.

Big pharma makes billions off opioid addiction and side effects

Opioid painkillers are a $9.6 billion industry in the U.S., a business that helped to give rise to an addiction problem that has prompted action from the Justice Department and Congress. But it’s not just the painkillers themselves that have bolstered pharmaceutical industry profits — drugs that treat opioid addiction and help remedy the side effects are a multi-billion-dollar industry in their own right.

Addiction, overdose, and side effects are each worth at least $1 billion in sales per year, reports the Washington Post.

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Various studies have shown that legalizing medical marijuana reduces opioid addiction, overdose, and side effects. (Not to mention medical marijuana is frequently used as a substitute for opioids for pain relief.)

A 2014 study found that passing medical cannabis laws were associated with “significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.” A study from earlier this year that used data on Medicare prescription spending found that access to legal medical cannabis had a significant effect on prescription drug use. A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that states with medical cannabis dispensaries saw a decrease in opioid addiction and overdose deaths.

Not only would legal medical cannabis affect opioid sales in the U.S., but it would disrupt the other markets that thrive off of opioid use. Indeed, its side effects have become such a big problem that an ad for opioid-induced constipation aired during the Super Bowl this year.

Do these studies that show medical marijuana’s efficacy hold up under scrutiny?

The health publication Stat delved into the evidence and concluded that “after a state legalizes medical marijuana, and especially after dispensaries start operating, opioid deaths fall.”

Health economist Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, who led one of the studies, told Stat that the researchers “put this through the econometric wringer.” Her team concluded that there was “strong, consistent evidence” that access to medical cannabis led to a reduction in opioid-related deaths.

Support for marijuana legalization at all-time high

Tony Webster

Come November, five states will vote on marijuana legalization, which could provide access to legal weed for almost a quarter of the population. Ahead of this pivotal vote, new data from the Pew Research Center shows that 57 percent of American voters favor legalizing cannabis.

The data show there was a marked change in how the country perceived legalization in 2012 — the year that Colorado and Washington passed ballot measures to legalize adult use.

“Legalization is polling much better than either presidential candidate, and politicians should do more to appeal to this growing constituency,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, in a statement.

Indeed, various publications have surmised that an endorsement of legalization could help Hillary Clinton’s campaign with the millennial vote. The rise in support for legalization is largely driven by young people: 71 percent of millennials support legalization. Young adults are twice as likely as other age groups to support legalization, although a majority of Gen-Xers and boomers (57 and 56 percent, respectively) also support the policy.

While Republicans are historically been against drug policy reform, 63 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans favor legalizing marijuana. Only 33 percent of conservative Republicans agree with their more moderate counterparts.

“No matter what happens in November, we know that a growing majority of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition, and the next president and Congress need to make it a priority to finally end outdated federal prohibition laws that stand in the way of full and effective implementation of state policies,” said Angell.

Why cannabis arrest rates are falling

marijuana arrests
Oregon Department of Transportation

Arrests for marijuana possession are at their lowest level since 1996, according to data compiled by the FBI. In 2015, 574,641 people were arrested for cannabis possession, down from a peak arrest rate of 853,638 in 2010.

The decline from 2014, when 700,993 arrest were made, to 2015 is a whopping 18%.

Still, someone is getting arrested for possessing cannabis about every minute in the U.S. While the numbers are thankfully dropping over time, its alarming and simply unacceptable that someone is harassed by the police just for marijuana every 49 seconds in this country, said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, tells Freedom Leaf.

So whats behind this reduction? A wave of legalization has swept the country in recent yearsfour states have legalized adult-use and more than half of all states have some form of legal medical cannabis. This has started to shrink the pool of eligible cannabis consumers, producers and sellers to arrest, observes Allen St. Pierre, former Executive Director of NORML and Vice President of Freedom Leaf. In states like Colorado and Washington, and in D.C., there has been an approximate 90% reduction in annual cannabis arrests post-voter reforms.

When NORML was founded in 1970, about 12% of the American public supported legalization. Now, national polls consistently find at least half the population backing the pot issue. Even police have to go along with this kind of massive societal change, St. Pierre adds. The baby boomers and Gen Xers who manage law enforcement today do not consider cannabis a hard drug in the same way they do cocaine, heroin, meth, crack and crack.

Areportout of Colorado, the first U.S. state with a legal cannabis market, found unsettling racial disparities in arrest rates post-legalization. While arrests of white adolescents decreased 8% in the two years following legalization, arrests of young people of color increased by 58% for black juveniles and 29% for Latino juveniles. Despite reduction in cannabis-related arrests, notably where legalization has occurred, there is still great racial disparity in arrests, St. Pierre concedes.

Our movement is set to more than double the number of states with legalization in November, Angell reminds. We wont stop pushing until the day when no one is put into handcuffs or cages just because they choose to consume cannabis.

This post was originally published at freedomleaf.com. Check out Freedom Leaf for this editors Word on the Tree column.