Marijuana activists have long argued that legalization would free up police departments to focus on other crimes. But six years after Colorado and Washington State voted to end prohibition, what does the evidence show?
A new study published in the journal Police Quarterly indicates that advocates were right after all. Police clearance rates—a figure that represents the number of crimes that resulted in an arrest divided by the total number of reported crimes—increased in both states post-legalization.
Logically, the argument makes sense. Before a state makes it legal to possess marijuana, for example, there are officers who will take time to investigate and charge individuals for low-level cannabis offenses. But when a state legalizes, they no longer have to allocate law enforcement resources to marijuana-related crimes, thereby enabling officers to go after different, and sometimes more serious, cases.
But up until this study, there wasn’t much researching exploring the direct relationship between legalization and crime clearance rates. For the first time, researchers demonstrated that—in Colorado and Washington State, at least—police were able to make more arrests for various crimes post-legalization. That includes violent crimes, property crimes, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts.
“While our results cannot specifically explain why police clearance rates have increased in Colorado and Washington, we think the argument that legalization did in fact produce a measurable impact on clearance rates is plausible,” the researchers concluded. “Our models show no negative effects of legalization and, instead, indicate that crime clearance rates for at least some types of crime are increasing faster in states that legalized than in those that did not.”
“As we document here, prior to legalization, several crimes clearance rates were either flat or decreasing. However, in the post-legalization period, we see considerable improvement. We cannot offer with absolute certainty that these changes are entirely the result of marijuana legalization, though we are quite certain that legalization has not unduly hampered police performance, at least as measured by clearance rates. Moreover, in the absence of other compelling explanations, the current evidence suggests that legalization produced some demonstrable and persistent benefit in clearance rates, benefits we believe are associated with the marijuana legalization proponents’ prediction that legalization would positively influence police performance.”
Alright, so how did crime clearance rates change post-legalization?
There were some modest differences in clearance rates between Colorado and Washington State, but the overall trend revealed an increase in these two states compared to all other states, the study found. Here’s a breakdown of the clearance rate changes for four different crime types:
Marijuana possession arrest rate
Likely the most obvious result of marijuana legalization at the state-level is that arrests for marijuana possession would decrease. Dramatic declines in cannabis possession rates were observed in Colorado and Washington State following the passage of legalization initiatives in 2012.
Clearance rates for violent crimes were steadily declining in Colorado and Washington State before the states legalized marijuana. In Colorado, those clearance rates slightly increased and stabilized post-legalization. In Washington State, violent crime clearance rates also increased after the end of cannabis prohibition.
“Conversely, while there was a jump in the trend line for average violent clearance rate at the point of intervention at the national level, post-intervention clearance trends did not shift upward as occurred in the treatment states,” the study authors wrote. “This set of findings suggests that right around the time of legalization, clearance rates trends seemed to increase for violent crime in general for both Colorado and Washington, though no similar shifts are noted for the country as a whole.”
While many pro-legalization have contended that cannabis reform would result in more police officers focusing on more serious crimes, “it is likely that police already spent a significant amount of resources investigating more serious crimes,” the study authors wrote.
And so one of the study’s more significant findings concerns property crimes—clearance rates for which significantly increased in Colorado and Washington State post-legalization. Meanwhile, the U.S. average property crime clearance rate decreased during the same time period.
“[I]n the absence of other compelling explanations, the current evidence suggests that legalization produced some demonstrable and persistent benefit in clearance rates, benefits we believe are associated with the marijuana legalization proponents’ prediction that legalization would positively influence police performance,” the study’s conclusion reads.
Scientists Actually Did A Study To Confirm That Marijuana Causes The Munchies
Science has confirmed that marijuana really does cause the munchies.
More precisely, a new study found that sales of commonly munched on products like ice cream, cookies and chips tend to go up after states legalize cannabis.
To do so, a team of researchers developed complicated mathematical formulas like the one featured below and analyzed a trove of retail scanner data.
The study indicates that the “widespread urban myth” that cannabis stimulates hunger and drives people to gorge on goodies is a myth no longer. The researchers looked at retail scanner data in more than 2,000 counties across the U.S. from 2006 to 2016 to determine whether states that legalize marijuana for adult use experience increases in the sale of high-calorie food items.
Past studies on the munchies have relied on data that’s “correlational and indirect,” they wrote. This paper, meanwhile, tested the hypothesis by factoring in the “differences in timing of the legalization of recreational marijuana across states” and specifically comparing “retail food purchases for the subsample of contiguous counties across [recreational marijuana law] and non-[recreational marijuana law] shared borders only.”
The study found causal evidence that legalizing cannabis was associated with higher so-called “junk food purchases.
Shortly after a state’s legal marijuana system became effective, average monthly sales of ice cream, cookies and chips jumped 3.1 percent, 4.1 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively. And that was the case even after the researchers accounted for “state- and pair-specific time trends.”
“The increase in sales starts at the time of the legislation becomes effective,” the study authors wrote. “The effect slightly decreases in the semesters thereafter for ice cream and chips, but not for cookies.”
That’s probably a welcome finding for Girl Scouts in Colorado. The state’s chapter recently lifted a ban on selling cookies outside of “adult-oriented businesses” such as marijuana stores, where the scouts can rest assured they’ll find a hungry customer base.
Study Shows That Bees Like Hemp, And That’s Great News For The Environment
Farmers (and Sen. Mitch McConnell) aren’t the only ones who are excited about hemp. According to a recent study, the crop also attracts a variety of bees—and that can help inform ecologically sustainable agriculture practices.
For the study, published this month in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy, researchers at Colorado State University set up 10 traps at industrial hemp fields in northern Colorado and collected bees over the course of five days during peak flowering season.
There are few other crops that pollinate in the region during the same timeframe, so the team wanted to know whether the non-psychoactive cannabis cousin of marijuana represented “a potentially valuable source of pollen for foraging bees,” which play a critical role in maintaining “sustainable productivity in natural and agricultural ecosystems.”
When the researchers looked at their collection, they found almost 2,000 bees from 23 different bee genera. Most of those (38 percent) were classic honeybees, but there were also specialized genera such as Melissodes bimaculata and Peponapis pruinosa that turned up in surprisingly “high proportions.”
The sample also indicated that hemp flowers are uniquely attractive to bees because previous reports looking at bee abundance and diversity for crops like genetically modified canola flowers didn’t produce the same volume or variety.
“Industrial hemp can play an important role in providing sustained nutritional options for bees during the cropping season.”
The study could prove helpful as ecologists attempt to address declining bee populations. The insects “continue to face debilitating challenges due to a number of different stressors,” the researchers wrote, but chief among them is the overall health of their respective habitats.
Finding a suitable pollinating crop to improve their habitats is, therefore, critical to the lives of bees and the ecosystems they occupy. Hemp “can thus be an ecologically valuable crop whose flowers are attractive to managed honey bees and a wide range of wild bees,” the researchers concluded.
“In addition, access to crucial phytochemicals through pollen and nectar from diverse plant sources is important for improved survival and pathogen tolerance in honey bees,” the team wrote. “Further studies analyzing the nutritive value of hemp pollen, would provide strong evidence in support of the ecological benefits.”
But the study also includes a warning: as hemp cultivation expands, which experts expect it will significantly since it has recently been federally legalized, there will be an increased risk of insect pests infecting the crop. And so the researchers said they “strongly urge that the information generated in this study on the diversity and abundance of bees on hemp be used to develop an integrated pest management plan designed to protect pollinators while controlling pests.”
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
States With Legal Medical Marijuana Have Lower Teen Use Rates, Large-Scale Study Finds
Contrary to often-expressed fears of marijuana legalization opponents, teens living in states that allow medical cannabis are actually less likely to use the drug compared to those in non-legal states.
That’s the result of a new study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
Researchers at Boston College looked at national youth drug surveys from 1999 to 2015—a data set that involved more than 860,000 adolescents across the United States. They investigated how self-reported marijuana use changed in states that have either decriminalized cannabis possession or legalized it for medical purposes.
And while opponents of legalization have long argued that loosening marijuana laws would drive more youth to consume cannabis, the study showed the opposite. The enactment of medical cannabis laws was associated with 1.1 percentage point reduction in marijuana use among teens.
“We found that for every group of 100 adolescents, one fewer will be a current user of marijuana following the enactment of medical marijuana laws,” study author Rebekah Levine Coley said in a press release.
That decline was even more pronounced within certain subgroups. For example, 3.9 percent fewer black adolescents and 2.7 percent fewer Hispanic adolescents used marijuana in legal medical cannabis states.
The trend also held true after researchers accounted for factors such as state demographics and economic trends. What’s more, the reductions in youth marijuana use were more significant the longer a state had a medical cannabis system in effect.
“Some people have argued that decriminalizing or legalizing medical marijuana could increase cannabis use amongst young people, either by making it easier for them to access, or by making it seem less harmful,” Coley said. “However, we saw the opposite effect.”
“We were not able to determine why this is, but other research has suggested that after the enactment of medical marijuana laws, youths’ perceptions of the potential harm of marijuana use actually increased. Alternatively, another theory is that as marijuana laws are becoming more lenient, parents may be increasing their supervision of their children, or changing how they talk to them about drug use.”
States that have simply decriminalized cannabis possession did not experience the same reductions in youth marijuana use, the study also found. There were slight declines in usage among 14-year-olds and Hispanic youth, but the broader reductions were only seen in medical marijuana states.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.