Could Legalizing Marijuana Eradicate Violent Crime in South America?

There's a link between American marijuana use and violent crime south of the U.S. and Mexico border... and even a link with avocados. 


Witnessing the incredible output of Colombian drug makers is a highlight of the Netflix series Narcos. It boggles the mind trying to fathom how much cocaine Pablo Escobar and rival crews carried across American borders. And when it comes to drugs America has long provided a captive and willing market... be they pharmaceuticals or illicit substances. 

Even today, with medical marijuana laws (MML) in twenty-nine states (and DC) and recreational cannabis in eight, the black market is worth $6 billion to our southern neighbors. Mexican growers and exporters are still responsible for a sizable portion of illegal marijuana; regions involved in that trade experience higher crime rates in the quest of getting high. That’s the synopsis of a forthcoming study in The Economic Journal on the effects of medical marijuana on criminal activity. The conclusion? Legalize it, at least medically. 

This comes at a time when as recently as May our Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, asked Congress to revoke protections on states that allow medical marijuana. In it he cites the “significant negative health effects,” which include “psychosis,” “IQ loss,” and “addiction,” all of which are either ridiculous or provide scant evidence. Sessions must have missed the data revealing states with opioid usage is going down in MML states.

Sessions has long felt like a throwback to a more ignorant time, especially, in this case, as a cheerleader for Nancy Reagan. This comes through in sentiments such as America being 

In the midst of a historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.

Only the opposite is true. The authors—Evelina Gavrilova, Takuma Kamada, and Floris Zoutman—have found that medical marijuana businesses act as a buffer against drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), resulting in lower crime rates:

MMLs allow local production of marijuana within the US and lower the barrier to enter the market, thereby creating competition for the incumbent DTOs.

The main argument is not the amount of marijuana being produced but the origin of the production. Cartel violence in Mexico is well known—in 2016 there were over twenty thousand homicides in the country, many drug-related. A reduction in profits from substances like marijuana has forced drug kingpins to turn to avocados to keep money flowing in.

To build their argument the authors collected data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), a resource for violent crime in US counties, and the Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), which offers details on homicides across the country. The years studied were from 1994-2012, and they skewed heavily toward border states, points of entry for most black market marijuana.

The approach was layered. First the authors compared border state counties before and after MMLs were in place, followed by counties with no MMLs. Then they compared border states to inland states. 

They discovered crime rates did not decrease in inland states. In border states, however, crime rates dropped 12.5 percent in counties with MMLs; percentages were highest in border counties. The further you moved from the border, the less the drop in violent crimes. Their conclusion is clear: 

We find that MMLs lead to a strong decrease in crime in regions where violent Mexican DTOs and their affiliated gangs are active. We expect even stronger effects of full legalization of marijuana production, since this will allow for large scale production by corporations as well as for government oversight, likely pushing DTOs completely out of the market for marijuana.

In his book, Marijuana: A Short History, John Hudak writes that trial and error is essential in building good public policy. Since marijuana has been considered a Schedule One substance (no medical value) for nearly a half-century few long-term studies have been performed. The last few years have provided a stark increase in cannabinoid research, however, and the science is in marijuana’s favor. 

Research has been hampered by what Hudak calls a “trifecta of prohibition”: the claims that marijuana has no medical value, is not safe for medical treatment, and is addictive. Mounds of recent research is proving this trifecta implausible. 

Hudak also believes the social impact of marijuana needs to be weighed. This important marker will only be revealed with time, as well as an honest appraisal of the data. So far, the science is revealing what stoners have long known: marijuana users are generally not a violent crew. As the study above shows, the proof is in the numbers. 

--

Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less