Breaking the stigma around cannabis has long-been a goal of young cannabis advocates throughout the country. Recently, the legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado, Washington, and New York have drawn the attention of both advocates and critics. Perhaps one of the more controversial arguments made with regards to legalizing marijuana is its effect of society and crime rates. So, to investigate this argument further we'll discuss the effects of legalizing marijuana in Colorado.
A Brief History on Legal Cannabis in Colorado
Throughout the 21st century, the term 'marijuana' was somewhat of a taboo. This earthy-green plant has inherently been subject to much criticism particularly for the psychoactive effects it produces. Now, the interesting thing here is that historically, marijuana was predominately used by ancient cultures as an herbal remedy for various sorts of illnesses. In fact, during the Grecko-Roman period, cannabis was seen as a herb that reduced pain and alleviated labor pain amongst Roman women.
Colorado is no doubt considered one of the most popular states known for its weed culture. On November 7th, 2000, the state governing body approved Amendment 20 legalizing medical marijuana. Under Amendment 20 an approved-medical marijuana patient could legally possess up to 2 ounces (57 g) of medical marijuana. As well, medical marijuana patients were permitted to cultivate no more than 6 cannabis plants for personal use.
In 2012, Colorado made a step forward by enacting Amendment 64 which actively legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Under Amendment, 64 adults over the age of 21 years were legally permitted to possess up to one ounce(28g) of marijuana without any repercussions. In addition, cultivation of up to six marijuana plants was no longer considered illegal, so as long as the plants remained with the confinements of one's private property.
Does Legalizing Weed Reduce Crime?
Cannabis is truly a controversial subject; on one side of the spectrum, you'll have advocates supporting marijuana legalization in Colorado. However, on the other side of the spectrum, critics may make claims suggesting that marijuana legalization leads to increased crime rates.
To approach such a debatable subject we'll take a look at various studies and government-published statistics in order to avoid bias that may confound our overall conclusion.
The legalization of cannabis has had a dramatic impact on public safety and crime rates in Colorado. The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice released a brief study describing the impacts of legal cannabis on the public. The findings can be summarized as follows:
- Between the years 2012 to 2019, the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice saw a 68% decrease in marijuana-related arrests. The arrests made for marijuana possession had decreased by 75% and the arrests made for sales were down by 61%.
- When comparing age groups, the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice saw an 84% reduction in arrests for adults 21 years and older.
The legalization of cannabis has raised concerns about theft and burglary around marijuana-based establishments. The argument is plausible, are cannabis dispensaries at risk of burglary? Unfortunately, the state does not have a credible method of measuring crime around marijuana establishments. However, they have released crime rate statistics that appear to follow a trend. For example, in Denver, Colorado burglary accounted for 58% of all marijuana-establishment crime in 2019. The concern arose from the fact that many of these establishments, dispensaries, work on a 'cash-only basis and this in itself could act as the main causative factor for an industry-related crime. Now, before we make conclusions on the effects of marijuana and crime around establishments it's important to look at the trends throughout the years. In 2012, there were approximately 134 burglaries amongst marijuana establishments, but in 2019 the number of burglaries decreased to 121.
Making a Comparison: Alcohol Vs Marijuana on Crime
Marijuana, regardless of one's opinion, is indeed a drug and so it's always going to be subjected to scrutiny. I think when it comes to discussing crime rates in Colorado, it's also important to analyze how drugs contribute to factors that could lead to crime for example aggression. To evaluate this further, I took a look at a 2016 study evaluating subjective aggression during alcohol and cannabis intoxication. This particular experiment hypothesized that alcohol intoxication would increase subjective aggression in users. Conversely, the study anticipated that cannabis intoxication would decrease subjective aggression in cannabis users. Interestingly enough, the study did conclude that cannabis consumption/intoxication did decrease one's feeling of aggression or aggressive-like behaviors.
The Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Youth
The revenue generated through legalizing cannabis in Colorado has been shown to benefit society as a whole. The first benefit is, of course, allocating a portion of tax revenue to local districts and educational institutions. Another benefit is the reduction in cannabis-related crime rates. Finally, one can even argue that cannabis legalization can allow police forces to allocate their time, efforts, and funding to dealing with more problematic and severe criminal acts.
To play devil's advocate and to avoid confounding bias, it's essential to discuss the negative effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado. Now, before we get into the hard details of the survey statistics, I must mention that there are tons of conflicting opinions on this particular subject matter. And, hence more research is required before making any conclusive statements.
- Point 1: The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey reported that the percentage of high school students using marijuana remained stable between 2005 and 2019.
- Point 2: Dr.Kevin Sabet, the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) in Colorado, released a press statement indicating a 21% increase in marijuana users amongst young people (particularly those 15 years and younger).
- Point 3: To make a comparison, the Colorado Department of Public health compared high school students reported use in a lifetime of various drugs. In 2017, Alcohol consumption was up by 59%, but by 2019, it had dropped down to 55%. In contrast, in 2017, marijuana consumption by high school kids was estimated at 35% and in 2019 rose to 36%.
Colorado Crime Statistics: The Effects of Legalizing Marijuana
Although a reduction of crime rates seems to be a great advantage to the public and police force. There's indeed another lingering advantage of cannabis legalization in Colorado—tax!
Under Amendment 64, the state legislature is required to enact an excise tax on all retail marijuana. According to the Amendment, the first 40 million is allocated towards a capital construction grant program which goes on to fund local school and education providers. A fraction, 15% of tax revenue collected from recreational marijuana sales is allocated to Colorado's General Fund. While 71.85% is allocated to the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund.
Overall, the tax money generated through legalizing cannabis in Colorado has gone directly towards bettering local communities. The marijuana revenue distribution can be summarized and compared below:
- Up to $5.4 million allocated to early literacy competitive grants
- Up to $89.7 million was allocated towards school capital construction.
- Up to $11.9 million allocated to school health professional grants
- Up to $2.0 million allocated to school bullying prevention grants.
Since legalizing marijuana in Colorado, an interesting discussion has risen, which is noticeably directed towards understanding the effects of marijuana on society. Advocates often argue points such as reduced crime rates and better use of law enforcement. As well, both recreational and medical marijuana are taxed, supporting local districts and educational grants. Conversely, critics may argue some key concerns, such as the increased use of substance abuse amongst youth. Regardless of one's thoughts, it's essential to take the information given with a grain of salt before formulating personal opinions on the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado.