Marijuana Legalization Causing More Violent Crime
In California, the use of cannabis (marijuana) for medicinal and recreational purposes was legalized in 1996. Ten (10) years later, production, use, and sale of the same were authorized, thanks to Prop. 64. The actual production and sales of recreational cannabis began in 2018, but those who want to engage in this business must first obtain both the state and local permits. Though cultivation and personal use of marijuana in small amounts is legal throughout the country, many counties and cities have continued to ban any business related to it.
For many years, marijuana has been regarded as a social ill with many believing that it poses a threat to the safety and the health of the public. However, in recent years, support for production and use of marijuana has gained traction both in the United States and across the globe. So far, it has been legalized in nine (9) states in the United States, and thirty (30) others have allowed its use for medicinal purposes. Just recently, Canada announced that it would legalize the weed and it is most likely that other countries will follow suit.
As this trend continues, it is indispensable to understand the likely health, social (security) and economic impacts of legalizing marijuana. Those who oppose this move cite security concerns as a significant factor. They argue that with the legalization of weed, there will be an increase in consumption with the consequence that the mentally impaired consumers will involve themselves in violent crimes such as murder, homicide, manslaughter, assault, rape, sexual assault, negligence, robbery, abduction (kidnapping), endangerment, harassment, and extortion.
Proponents of the legal use of marijuana also argue that its legalization lowers the rate of drug abuse. Making a drug available in drug stores and dispensaries, they claim, is the best way to discourage its use. They say, for example, that when Portugal made all drugs legal, the rate of drug abuse in the country dropped by fifty (50%) percent and the use of weed and other substances never increased. The Netherlands and other countries that are drug-tolerant, they say, show lower rates of occasional and lifetime use of marijuana, and that just one (1) year since weed was legalized in Colorado, there was a remarkable decline of marijuana use among teens. They assume that legalization of marijuana stripped it of the rebellious appeal often associated with it and made the youths to seek other means of recreation. We are yet to find out whether there is any correlation between the legalization of marijuana and lower crime rates and whether these arguments hold any water.
It’s Good to Say No to Marijuana
Many reasons point to the fact that marijuana is a social ill, just as many have believed for so many years. For a start, many cannabis producers grow it indoors so its HTC levels may be high. This is a hefty price on our environment because of its high carbon footprint. One joint of pot consumes as much energy as that consumed in lighting a house for more than a day. In just one state, cannabis farms consume an average of four (4%) percent of the total electricity consumed in the city, and this translates to a six ($6) billion dollar annual energy expenditure in the U.S. – it is predicted that by 2026, this figure will hit fifty ($50) billion dollars. This is not a small figure by any standards. The U.S. is the second largest producer of carbon globally, and it should not support industries with such high energy demands, especially if their products have negative impacts on society.
Legalizing Marijuana is a Threat to Public Health
Smoking marijuana results in respiratory diseases and is associated with a high risk of developing lung cancer. With the availability of legal marijuana, there will be a high prevalence of conditions related to its use. In states where weed has been legalized, many health professionals have reported a surge in marijuana-related diseases. Law enforcement officers have also complained that it has become challenging to identify drugged drivers because, unlike in alcohol, their levels of intoxication are difficult to determine.
Legalizing Marijuana is Prejudicial to the Underprivileged
According to many studies, the risk factors of substance abuse/use is connected to poverty, and it is quite unfortunate that those who own liquor stores have either contributed to or exploited this reality. It is an open fact that there is usually a high concentration of liquor stores in low-income districts. It is therefore not a surprise that California’s marijuana barons are busy setting up shops in the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and they have been doing this for more than ten (10) years. We observe the same trend in Denver, where, since marijuana became legal, more than two hundred (200) people are growing and selling weed in low-income regions.
Is There a Connection Between Legal Marijuana and Increase in Criminal Activities?
We can quickly establish that there is a strong connection between legalized marijuana and an increase in the crime rate. In Los Angeles, it has failed to reduce crime rate as many expected, or were told, or were made to believe. Criminal lawyers continue to see an increase in clients and courtrooms are still filled with many cases. Statistics show that the outcome has instead been the opposite. Washington and Colorado legalized the possession and recreational use of marijuana in 2012, and they were the front runners. Other states joined the bandwagon including California and The Columbia District. Most of these states try to play it safe; they legalize the possession or use of marijuana for medicinal use or decriminalize possessing the drug in small amounts. However, how much is “a small amount?”
Some are pushing for absolute legalization of the drug “to remove the illicit, underground market for weed or lower criminal cases that relate to the unlawful sale and use of weed.” The question that has not been answered is whether legalization of pot has resulted in its much-hyped promise of serenity and order, or it has just fueled an increase in violent crime.
Statistics never lie, and what is on the ground claims that legalizing marijuana leads to a decrease in violent crime doubtful. In many jurisdictions where the drug is legal, there is a surge in cases of homicides. For example, in Denver alone, homicides rates increased from thirty-six (36) to a high of sixty-seven (67) between 2013 and 2018. In 2013, Seattle experienced nineteen (19) homicides, and the number has been growing every year to thirty-one (31) cases that happened in 2018.
The District of Columbia is another place of interest. There was an increase of violent crime which saw one hundred sixty (160) cases of homicides last year. This is very high compared to the one hundred sixteen (116) cases that happened in 2017. In early 2019, homicides more than doubled when compared to the figures of 2018. This is a worrying trend, and just on the face of it, we can see that the justification of legalizing marijuana to reduce the violent crime rate is not working.
Violent cases are on the rise because the legalization of weed has failed to do away with the illegal black market. There have been hundreds if not thousands of consumers who move from states where it is unlawful to buy and smuggle back to their own states. Such smugglers are themselves criminals with typically questionable backgrounds.
Laxity in Law Enforcement
State regulation, production costs, taxes, and transportation costs have made the prices of legalized marijuana to be much higher than that of the unregulated and illegal competition. This is why it is just impossible to eliminate the black markets as many producers seek short-cuts and consumers preferring to go for the cheaper options. They would rather commit this low-level crime instead of paying high prices for the legal weed, if anything, even police officers are progressively being encouraged to ignore marijuana consumers.
Price and Demand Wars
The cost of illegal marijuana is facing downward pressure in the legalized states, and this can be attributed to the fact that police in these states are reluctant to enforce marijuana laws. As had been mentioned earlier, marijuana is not like alcohol and it is impossible for officers to determine the level of intoxication from its consumption. That’s why they would instead go for alcohol consumers who are very easy to prosecute because there are standard tests for the levels of intoxication from alcohol consumption such as the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. Legalization of marijuana has virtually eliminated its risk premium, an element that usually inflates the prices of substances that are prohibited.
Secondly, it is most probable that in the states where pot has been legalized, its demand has increased because there’s no longer any fear of punitive legal consequences. This has led to consumers from states where it is banned moving to states where it has been legalized for their share of lower cost or legal pot.
The market dynamics have resulted in intense competition among black-market marijuana dealers. This is not a surprise, and you can confirm from any law enforcement officer who works in the narcotics department that if market forces are disrupted in such a manner that encourages competition, there will be a corresponding increase in violence between and among the market participants. These kinds of violence cannot be ignored, and we can see they directly result from the legalization of marijuana.
We also need to mention de-facto law. A case in point is when a chief prosecutor in Baltimore announced that she is no longer interested in prosecuting any criminal cases that involve the possession and use of marijuana, or the person’s criminal record, notwithstanding the amount in question.
She said that she took this step to improve the public-police relationship and to focus the city’s resources on fighting other forms of crimes. She noted that prosecuting marijuana has no safety value for the public, adding that it unfairly impacts on people of color and wears away public trust hence making it counterproductive and costly affair. This announcement even shocked the leadership of her party who felt that it is not upon her office to decide on the legality or otherwise of marijuana, this, according to them is the duty of the state legislature. The effect of her announcement is theatrical because if marijuana cases are not prosecuted or regulated, legal market for the product will not be there, and the residents will be free to decide how to farm, process and sell marijuana, and they will also set the prices. Such a free market is a recipe for chaos given that other jurisdictions surrounding Baltimore still prohibit marijuana.
Prosecutors are the heartbeat of law enforcement, and if others follow this trend, marijuana will be unofficially “legal” even in the states that prohibit it because there will be no penalties for its possession and consumption. Despite the mounting cultural and political pressure in favor of its legalization, legalizing it will have unprecedented social and economic repercussions and states considering making it legal should first analyze what is going on in Los Angeles, The District of Columbia, Washington and Colorado where violent crimes are on the rise, courtesy of the legal weed.
A New War in Los Angeles
Things don’t look cozy in Los Angeles even after it legalized marijuana. Even though marijuana traders are allowed to do their business legally, slow bureaucracy has ensured that they don’t get their licenses in good time, and high taxes have ensured that the black market is thriving beyond the capacity which the law enforcement agencies can handle. Moreover, now L.A. Mayor, Eric Garcetti says millions of dollars are being spent to fight this black market, and he is contemplating asking for more enforcement funds and an increase in the police force to help combat this menace by shutting down all illegally operating marijuana shops in the city. It is a big headache because these unlicensed shops are breeding grounds for criminals, something that was not anticipated when pot was being legalized.
One can be excused for wondering why a city where marijuana is legal would consider increasing its police force spending ten (10) times – from three ($3) to thirty ($30) million dollars. This spending is justified because L.A. is dotted with many illegal weed shops, and the regulations here are not easy to follow. There are a total of one hundred seventy-eight (178) weed shops in L.A. that are legal, and the police are following more than one hundred (100) shops that are operating without licenses.
According to the city’s prosecutor, more than five-hundred (500) people have faced marijuana-related charges in a period of only nine (9) months. Ask any criminal lawyer, and they will tell you that these are worrying figures, and they point to the fact that something needs to be done. Are we witnessing a case where the money that could be used to provide the residents with other necessary social amenities like health facilities and good roads being diverted and used to fight illegal weed? Also, as much energy is being spent on fighting illegal pot, there is a likelihood that other forms of crime will come in, and these will be caused indirectly by legalized marijuana.
What is the Root of the Problem?
Marijuana legalization in California came with heavy taxes. The cities that allow legal pot imposed heavy taxes on the industry in the hope that they would rake in quick cash. However, this has backfired. Imagine the cost of legal marijuana in Los Angeles is thirty-five (35%) percent higher than the price in the black market. This is due to local fees, state fees, and taxes, which then begs the question, why would a consumer go for legal cannabis?
The answer is simple; no one goes for an expensive product if they can get a cheaper version of the same quality and given that most shops are established in regions populated with low-income earners, it is evident that most of them would go for the cheaper option.
Secondly, when Mayor Garcetti called for a crackdown on illegal marijuana shops, he forgot that there is much bureaucracy in the process of obtaining a license in L.A. The process is terrible, and it even discourages those who want to operate legal marijuana shops. It is reported that many applicants have waited for more than a year for these licenses and they are still not forthcoming. These have made some of them give up and are now operating their shops illegally, or they have gone elsewhere. The illegal shops are taking advantage of the fact that the demand for marijuana in the city is high, and the city is unable to control the unlicensed shops plus the market.
Currently, only twenty (20%) percent of marijuana sales are through legal vendors; the remaining percentage is traded illegally in the black market. That’s why the licensed vendors want the mayor to do something on the inordinate red tape and high taxes rather than insisting on more punitive measures. It is interesting that while marijuana is legal in Los Angeles, the city is staring at the possibility of a costly war on the same drug.
California Officials Also Agree – Legalization of Marijuana is Increasing Violent Crime
By the time marijuana was legalized in California, it was estimated that the city would have netted a whopping $5.1b in revenues by 2018. This hasn’t been achieved, but the figures are substantial. In some regions in the state, the payoff has been murder. Some officials from Sonoma County are not happy with this legal marijuana business. They say it has brought nothing to their community other than robberies, violent crimes, and home invasions.
Cloverdale Reveille reports that some thugs are entering the country from The East Coast on account of the legal marijuana, but intending to run a complex network of thievery. The residents of Petaluma, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, and Coverdale can attest to the fact that life in these regions has not been easy. An officer in the Sheriff’s Department in Sonoma confirms this by saying that they have received many bodies of the victims of these criminal gangs.
Associating marijuana with an increase in violent crime is not happening for the first time. In 2017, Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Attorney General said the rise in violence in Colorado and its surrounding area was as a result of legal marijuana sales in this area. At a press briefing, he told reporters that the country is witnessing real violence related to legal pot, adding that there was big money in it.
The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, said that the number of illegal marijuana farms in Northern California is on the increase, and the situation is getting worse. This forced National Guards to be redeployed from the border to follow up on the illegal marijuana farms instead. This kind of reinforcement and redeployment is quite ironic in a country where it was expected that legalization of marijuana would free it from heavy policing and make the work of the police easier. We are seeing police officers being deployed and resources being redirected to fight the black market and the criminal cases associated with such markets.
Legalization of marijuana was a brilliant idea, and the results were expected to be positive. However, it seems not enough research was conducted to determine its real outcome. The legislators or the proponents of the legalization of pot imagined that people living in illegal states would not move to the states where marijuana is legal to obtain the drug and in the process get involved in all manner of criminal activities. The officials in the states that legalized marijuana were also expecting that there would be a boom in the industry which would bring in more cash for development. It was a good thought, but they imposed high taxes that instead made the black market thrive, which in turn caused an increase in violent crime. Many criminal lawyers believe that concrete steps need to be taken to address violent crimes related to legal marijuana, even if it means going to your state representative to bring in laws that can make this industry manageable or scraping off any laws supporting legal marijuana in entirety.
Marijuana Legalization Causing More Violent Crime