Report: Crime in a Time of Cannabis: Estimating the Effect of Legalizing Marijuana on Crime Rates in Colorado and Washington Using the Synthetic Control Method

Abstract

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use continues to expand across America. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize marijuana in 2012. A primary concern regarding legalization is how these policy changes affect crime rates. Researchers have begun to estimate the effect marijuana legalization has had on crime rates. We extend this literature by using a different analytical approach. State level data covering years 2000–2019 were analyzed using the synthetic control method to find that legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington was generally not associated with variations in index crime rates. These findings substantiate prior research. Increased crime rates should not be a primary concern as more states move to adopt recreational marijuana use legislation. Instead, the benefits to states via harm reduction, increased tax revenue, and a more efficient allocation of policing resources ought to be more of a consideration for states when passing recreational marijuana legislation.

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