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Friday, September 13, 2013

Do any studies explore increased (or decreased) violent crime or unemployment (or other undisputed social ills) in medicial marijuana states?

Perhaps to the chagrin and annoyance to students in my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar, I keep pushing our class discussion to try to figure out and precisely specify what could be considered undisputed and undisputable harms from any drug legalization regime --- especially if one views simply increased drug use alone, even by young people, to be a social good or at least not clearly a social harm.  (This prior post raised some of these issues and ideas.)  The question in the title of this post is prompted in part by our most recent class discussion, where a rough consensus emerged that increases in violent crime and/or unemployment might be undisputed metrics of a failed social policy.

Thus the question in the title of this post, which also builds a bit off a prior post which asked "Two decades into experimentation, what is really known about medical marijuana practices?".  Specifically, I am wondering if anyone has yet tried (or if it really would even be feasable) to develop effective and sophisticated empirical studies to explore if there have been any statistically significant changes in violent crime rates or unemployement rates in states that have legalized medical marijuana.  

As a relative agnostic (with libertarian leanings) on lots of marijuana reform issues, I believe I would be moved significantly by serious data showing (or even just suggesting) causal links between medical marijuana legalization and violent crime rates or unemployment rates.  Of course, like research on incarceration and crime rates, the results of any such empirical study linking medical marijuana to an increase or decrease in social ills could be disputable and would be disputed by partisan advocates in the reform policy debate.  But for those without a predetermined perspective on various marijuana law, policy and reform issues (which likely describes a majority of Americans), even tentative or partial data showing the positive or negative impact of medicial marijuana and violent crime or other undisputed social harms could and would likely "move the needle" considerably.

This post is intended not only to inquire as to whether anyone is aware of any modern studies exploring these issues in states with medical marijuana laws, but also to ponder whether there are other clear empirical metrics of undisputed social ills that ought to be a central part of the medicial marijuana reform discussion and debate.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

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Posted by Douglas A. Berman on September 13, 2013 at 10:52 AM in Criminal Law | Permalink


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I don't have any data, but it occurs to me that the interpretation of an increase in the unemployment rate might be ambiguous. Unemployment is to some degree voluntary—the choice not to take insufficiently attractive jobs or not to try hard to find a job. If the increased availability of marijuana in states where medical marijuana was legal made leisure more attractive, it could increase the measured unemployment rate without necessarily leading to a net decrease in human welfare.

Posted by: David Friedman | Sep 13, 2013 2:25:57 PM

Here are a few studies to chew on:
Mark Anderson et al., Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption, available at http://pages.uoregon.edu/bchansen/MML_Alcohol_Consumption.pdf
The authors find a correlation between a drop in traffic fatalities (of roughly 10 percent) and adoption of a medical marijuana law.
The same authors have had a field day exploring correlations between adoption of medical marijuana laws and other phenomena, including suicide rates. High on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide, available at http://ftp.iza.org/dp6280.pdf.
There was also a study published by RAND researchers showing lower crime rates in areas immediately surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries in LA. But that study was withdrawn because of defects in the data discovered post-publication.
Per earlier comments of mine, I’d take much of the research in this area with a big grain of salt. There are lots of obstacles to demonstrating rigorously even a correlation between medical marijuana and some outcome, not to mention causation. In that regard, it’s similar to the seemingly never-ending debates over whether the death penalty deters.

Posted by: Rob Mikos | Sep 13, 2013 11:27:28 AM

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