A report that is to be released this week by the Department of Justice is expected to contain language drawing a link between cannabis legalization and upticks in violent crime. Advocates of cannabis as well as advocates of justice reform worry that this report could signal the beginning of the cannabis “crackdown” that has been a topic of serious concern since the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. In recent months, he has been quick to make this connection quite frequently-even though it isn’t true.
Washington state stands as testament to the truth: that cannabis legalization does not cause more crime. In fact, a well-regulated legal cannabis market seems to have caused a decrease in crime since it went live in 2012.
In 2011, the year before legalization took hold in Washington, FBI figures reported 295.6 violent offenders per 100,000 people. This number dropped down to 284.4 out of 100,000 people by 2015-three years after cannabis legalization. There have been fluctuations that occur periodically, but nothing that suggests any kind of influence caused by legal cannabis.
In fact, Washington is in line with the trend of lower violent crime rates throughout the United States. This analysis of FBI data found that nationwide incidence of violent crime in 2015 was roughly half of 1993’s numbers. According to this same set of data, Washington’s violent crime rates were still significantly lower than the national average. Neither the FBI nor the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs specifically tracks crime that “could be related to” cannabis legalization.
“In Washington state, I think it would be a strain to correlate violent crime with marijuana usage,” said Mitch Barker, the executive director of the sheriff and police chiefs group. “I would struggle to believe that the legalization of marijuana or more legalization relates to violent crime — somebody would have to make that case to me.”
Initially, lawmakers had expected there to be an increase in crime, especially since the legal cannabis industry operates on what is essentially a cash-only basis. But that has not happened.