Marijuana & Crime

Is Marijuana Legalization Linked to Increased Violent Crime?

Although this claim appears to be making its way into political talking points regarding recreational marijuana, no credible evidence has been provided to support it.

On 27 February 2017, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested that there is a link between legalized marijuana and violence, and that his conversations with Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson — a long-time legalization opponent — helped bring this issue to his attention.

As reported by Huffington Post:

“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions said to reporters Monday at the Department of Justice. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”

Sessions said he had a meeting on Monday with the attorney general of Nebraska, who is very concerned about marijuana flowing in from Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved,” he said. […]

“You can’t sue somebody for drug debt; the only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” Sessions said.

These comments offer two claims that require investigation. First is the specific information that Sessions attributes to Nebraska attorney general Peterson regarding “more violence around marijuana than one would think” as a result of legalization in neighboring Colorado. The second is that there exists a broad association between marijuana legalization and violent crime. Both claims lack credible data to support these assertions.

Peterson has already attempted unsuccessfully (along with then Oklahoma Attorney General and now EPA commissioner Scott Pruitt) to seek permission from the United States Supreme Court to sue the state of Colorado over alleged increases to crime. It is likely that the matters highlighted by this case are what Sessions is referencing.

On 18 December 2014, Oklahoma and Nebraska filed a motion for permission from the Supreme Court to sue the state of Colorado over damages they alleged to have suffered after their legalization of recreational marijuana, as reportedby at the time:

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