Back in February, Jeff Sessions stated that there was “more violence” around marijuana.
He’s not the first politician or member of law enforcement to make these types of claims, and numerous others have followed suit. Just a few weeks ago, District Attorney Dan May argued that marijuana was “the gateway drug to homicide in our community and across our state.”
Out of context, his comment sounds pretty ridiculous, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. May made his claim while discussing a big bust that had just occurred, in which a cannabis accessory and gift shop in Colorado Springs – Hoppz’ Cropz – was shut down and 13 people who ran it were indicted on charges of illegal distribution and violating the Organized Crime Control Act.
According to charges, employees were purchasing medical marijuana from licensed facilities and then illegally selling it out of the store at inflated prices. They allegedly hid the sale of drugs by overcharging for legitimate items and giving marijuana away for “free.” The owners of Hoppz’ Cropz are charged with tax evasion to the tune of almost half a million dollars. Additionally, employees were working under the table and told to tell people they were “volunteers.”
So that’s the context in which May made his claim. Wondering where homicide comes into that? It doesn’t. Turns out he was referring to Colorado Springs Police Department information made available earlier in the year that discussed a “marijuana nexus” in 11 of the 59 homicides that have occurred in the area over the past three years.
All of this begs two questions. First, is there any validity to May’s argument that marijuana leads to an increase in homicides – or even other violent crimes in general? Second, does validity actually matter?
Let’s start with the question of validity.
Does Marijuana Lead to More Violent Crimes? Look at the Stats
The elephant in the room on this has to be the recent report that crime in our state has jumped dramatically over the past year. At first glance, this would seem to support May’s argument. Marijuana is more readily available, and the crime rate has gone up.
However, it’s not that simple. Several studies done in the first few years after legalization actually showed the opposite – that the crime rate had decreased. A study in Washington found that violent crimes had decreased by 10 percent after legalization.
Use only that information and you could easily make the argument that legalizing marijuana decreases crime, but that isn’t the type of thing you’re going to catch many politicians or law enforcement officials saying.
Besides, once again, it’s not that simple. Why? Because none of those studies were about the correlation between legalization and crime rates. All they can really show is that the number of criminal acts either went up or down in a given year. Certainly legalization could have played a role in that, but there are countless other factors involved as well.
The closest things we have to research on legalization’s correlation to crime rates are the studies that have been done on the effects of medical marijuana. Since it has been around in many states for far longer, there has been far more comprehensive research done. The verdict? Speaking generally, researchers have found that medical marijuana leads to a reduction in both violent crimes and property crimes, with one study citing “significant drops.”
In other words, the best research we have on the link between legalized marijuana and crime seems to say the opposite of what Mr. May stated. “Gateway to homicide”? Not according to the facts.
Don’t assume that’s going to help you if you are charged in our state, though.
Those in Law Enforcement Impacted by Personal Experiences, Not Stats
Here’s the sad truth: it doesn’t really matter if most people using or involved with marijuana in our state are completely law-abiding. Why? Because those are not the people that police officers and
prosecutors tend to interact with most.
They deal with the people who are using and selling drugs illegally. People who steal. People who engage in violent acts.
Because of this, that is what many of them tend to see when they look at those involved with marijuana. In some cases, they may even become overzealous and find crimes where there are none, or bend the rules in order to catch someone they “know” is guilty.
This is why it is so important to work with a knowledgeable Colorado drug crimes attorney. He or she will be able to protect your rights, fight for your freedom, and make sure that you are aware of all the options that are available to you.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.