Marijuana Legalization and Its Impact on Crime Rates

The issue of making marijuana legal has been actively discussed during a recent decade on different levels. Both legal authorities and public activists have been evaluating the risks and the possible benefits of this decision, but the problem is still controversial. On the one hand, advocates of marijuana legalization claim that the use of cannabinoids is helpful in mitigating the side effects of cancer as well as cancer therapies and even can be prescribed as a cancer treatment.

Their opponents mention the negative effects of marijuana use, such as addiction or negative impact on the human brain. Apart from health issues, the debate includes the problem of crime related to marijuana use and distribution. I believe that the legalization of marijuana in the United States is a demand of time and should be provided in the nearest future. Although this problem needs further research, there is evidence that supports the positive impacts of marijuana on health as well as the benefits of marijuana legalization for crime rates. This paper analyzes the health effects of marijuana and studies the influence of its legalization on crime in the United States.

Health Effects of Marijuana

Cannabinoids have been used for medical purposes for decades. California was the first in the United States to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 (Ammerman et al. 4). As of December 2014, state laws made medical marijuana legal for individuals aged 21 and older in 23 states and the District o Columbia. It was a step forward in healthcare because cannabinoids on the whole and marijuana, in particular, can be used for diverse diseases and pathologic conditions.

For example, Ammerman et al. summarize earlier studies and conclude that cannabinoids are applied in case of “chronic pain, nausea, anorexia, cancer, autoimmune and rheumatic diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, multiple sclerosis and spasticity, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder” (5). Therefore, many patients will benefit if marijuana is legalized both for medical and recreational use.

One of the concerns of opponents to marijuana legalization is its negative impact on people’s health. It is an important issue because it is likely that the availability of marijuana will result in an increase in its use, which will lead to diverse health-related adverse effects. Nevertheless, recent studies do not report any correlation between non-medical cannabinoid use and negative health outcomes. For example, Fuster et al. investigate the sample of adults who were screened positive for “any recent illicit or non-medical prescription” drug use in the primary care settings (133). The researchers failed to reveal any association between marijuana use and health effects as well as visits to emergency departments or admission to hospitals.

One of the recent studies dedicated to the problem of marijuana legalization involves an issue of addiction and mortality related to the use of pain killers. Thus, Powell et al. investigate the impact of medical marijuana laws on opioid deaths. The researchers provide evidence that the states that adopted the laws facilitating the use of medical marijuana observe a slight decrease in deaths caused by opioid overdose as well as opioid addictions.

It is explained by the fact that cannabinoids can serve as an alternative to opioid pain relievers that are powerful but addictive. The study reveals that marijuana legalization on the whole and the use of cannabinoids for medical purposes results in a reduction of self-reported non-medical consumption of prescribed opioids (Powell et al. 21). It can be explained by the fact that individuals who report non-medical use of opioids switch to marijuana when it becomes available. Marijuana is less addictive, with about one in ten users developing addiction (“Marijuana: How Can It Affect Your Health?”). Consequently, although marijuana overdose is also dangerous for health, its negative effect is less critical if compared to opioid use or overdose.

The Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Crime

One of the important considerations that precede marijuana legalization is its influence on the crime situation in states that agree to change the status of cannabinoids. The focus of opponents is that the legalization of cannabis not only for medical but also for recreational use is likely to have a negative effect on crime rates and lead to an increase in violent crime incidence (Adams). Nevertheless, there is no research evidence to support these claims.

On the contrary, there are studies that prove a positive impact of marijuana legalization on crime rates. Thus, Makin et al. discuss marijuana legalization and crime clearance rates on the examples of Colorado and Washington states, which allowed the retail sale of recreational marijuana in 2012 (3). This authorization has certain limits, such as illegal possession of cannabinoids for individuals under 21 and prohibition to use in public places, transport it if unsealed, send through mail, as well as a drive under the influence of marijuana (Makin et al. 3). In fact, the legalization means that possession and use of cannabinoids become legal but restricted by the norms that are mentioned above.

The discovered effect of marijuana legalization on crime is as follows. First of all, both Colorado and Washington states observed a significant decrease in marijuana possession arrests after 2012 (Makin et al. 5). Also, certain clearance in rates of property crimes, robbery, and burglary was recorded in the mentioned states in the period from 2012 to 230165, which was included in the study. Also, Adams provides the findings of earlier studies, which reveal the fact that the legalization of marijuana in the United States and Mexico results in lower crime rates. Thus, research by Gavrilova et al. provides evidence of about a 13 percent reduction in crimes, including murders, robberies, and aggravated assaults in districts that are close to states where medical marijuana is legal (16).

One of the reasons that lead to the decrease in crime rates after the legalization of marijuana is that it allows police agencies to focus on more significant activities aimed at crime detection and prevention than control of marijuana use and possession. Another issue to consider in this context is that individuals who use marijuana do not need to seek it in the illegal black market after legalization because they can buy it through legal channels or cultivate it.

Consequently, the number of crimes related to marijuana sales and purchases decreases, which has a positive impact on crime rates on the whole. Moreover, the illegal market itself decreases due to the lack of demand and reduction of price for cannabis, which is expected to be lower in the legal market.

On the whole, the legalization of marijuana has a positive influence on the crime situation in the states or countries that ratified corresponding laws. Summarizing briefly, legal access to marijuana decreases the interest in black market sales and can lead to the elimination of black business on the whole. Moreover, it has a positive effect on crime rates on the whole and reduces the incidence of such crimes like robbery, burglary, and property crimes.


To summarize, it should be mentioned that despite the long debate, there is no single opinion about the controversial issue of marijuana legalization. Both supporters and opponents provide arguments for or against legalization that have to be considered. Nevertheless, there is little evidence about the consequences of legalizing marijuana because most of the states that made it legal not only for medical use but also for recreation made these decisions during the last decade.

Currently, the existing studies prove certain positive influences that marijuana has on people’s health. Thus, it can be applied in many conditions such as chronic pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis and spasticity, and many mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Moreover, cannabis is the alternative to opioid pain killers that has fewer adverse effects and has the potential to reduce opioid overdose mortality. Another aspect of marijuana legalization is its effect on crime rates. Despite the predictions of skeptics that legalization is likely to increase crime incidence, the statistics are the opposite.

Thus, the legalization of cannabis results in a decrease in diverse crimes such as violent crimes, robberies, burglaries, and property crimes. Still, legalization demands an increase in marijuana consumption control to avoid the use of cannabinoids by adolescents because early use can have a negative influence on the brain development and adverse effects on mental functions. Consequently, the legalization of marijuana can be supported in case the necessary safety measures are taken and legal norms are followed in the states that accept the legalization of recreational cannabis in addition to the medical one.

Works Cited

Adams, Mike. “California Officials Say Marijuana Legalization Causing More Violent Crime”. Forbes. 2018. Web.

Ammerman, Seth, et al. “The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research, and Legal Update.” Pediatrics, vol. 135, no. 3, 2015, pp. 1-19.

Fuster, Daniel, et al. “No Detectable Association Between Frequency of Marijuana Use and Health or Healthcare Utilization Among Primary Care Patients Who Screen Positive for Drug Use.” Journal of General International Medicine, vol. 29, no. 1, 2014, pp. 133-139.

Gavrilova, Evelina, et al. “Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organisations? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime.” The Economic Journal, 2017, pp. 1-44.

Makin, David A., et al. “Marijuana Legalization and Crime Clearance Rates: Testing Proponent Assertions in Colorado and Washington State.” Police Quarterly, 2018, pp. 1-25.

Marijuana: How Can It Affect Your Health?Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018. Web.

Powell, David, et al. Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addiction and Deaths Related to Pain Killers? 2015. Web.

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LawBirdie. "Marijuana Legalization and Its Impact on Crime Rates." March 27, 2023.