SCIENCE & HEALTHImpact Of Marijuana Legalization On Crime Reduction Is Being Underestimated, New Study Finds

Studies have repeatedly identified an association between the legalizing marijuana and reductions in crime—but the impact of the policy change is being significantly understated because of limitations in the research methodology, a new paper co-authored by a federal official asserts.

Most studies looking at crime and cannabis rely on FBI data sourced from local police departments across the country. But reporting that data to the federal agency is entirely voluntary, leaving knowledge gaps that have underplayed the extent to which legalizing medical cannabis reduces violent and property crime.

That’s according to researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service and Appalachian State University, who published a working paper with their findings this month.

“U.S. drug policy presumes prohibition reduces crime. Recently states have enacted medical marijuana laws creating a natural experiment to test this hypothesis but is impeded by severe measurement error with available data,” the abstract states.

To account for those shortcomings, the researchers developed “a novel imputation procedure to reduce measurement error bias and estimate significant reductions in violent and property crime rates, with heterogeneous effects across and within states and types of crime, contradicting drug prohibition policy.”

“We demonstrate uncorrected measurement error or assuming homogeneous policy effects leads to underestimation of crime reduction from ending marijuana prohibition,” the authors said in the paper, which is titled, “Smoke and Fears: The Effects of Marijuana Prohibition on Crime.”

To improve upon existing research, the study authors said they used a “multiple imputation procedure for agency-level crime data to fill in the gaps in the [Uniform Crime Reporting] data that accounts for the inherent uncertainty in these imputed values in the subsequent statistical analysis.”

“Our results indicate that [medical marijuana laws] result in significant reductions in both violent and property crime rates, with larger effects in Mexican border states,” they wrote. “While these results for violent crime rates are consistent with previously reported evidence, we are the first paper to report such an effect on property crime as well. Moreover, the estimated effects of MMLs on property crime rates are substantially larger, which is not surprising given property crimes are more prevalent.”

While the study specifies that the USDA’s official’s involvement in the study “should not be construed to represent” the government’s position on the issue, it’s notable that an agency representative even participated and effectively reached the conclusion that the theory that criminalizing drugs—as the federal government has done for decades—reduces crime seems to be unfounded.

Other data has similarly challenged the notion that prohibition reduces crime.

In 2020, researchers looked at how adult-use marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado affected crime rates in neighboring states, and the resulting study determined that passage of recreational cannabis laws may have actually reduced certain major crimes in nearby jurisdictions.

The previous year, a federally funded study found that legalizing marijuana has little to no impact on rates of violent or property crime. The policy change did seem connected to a long-term decline in burglaries in one state, however.

A 2018 study from the think tank RAND said county-level data from California suggested that there was “no relationship between county laws that legally permit dispensaries and reported violent crime,” the researchers wrote. What’s more, there was a “negative and significant relationship between dispensary allowances and property crime rates,” though it’s possible that’s the product of “pre-existing trends.”

That same year, researchers at Victoria University of Wellington and Harvard University found that medical marijuana laws essentially have a null effect of crime rates, with one big exception: A nearly 20 percent reduction in violent and property crimes in California following the legalization of medical cannabis there.

DEA marijuana seizures have significantly declined as more states have moved to legalize cannabis, a new study led by a top marijuana investigator for the federal government found. And at the same time, marijuana arrests are also dropping across the country, and they dipped significantly in 2020, recent FBI data shows.

Federal marijuana trafficking cases also continued to decline in 2020 as more states have moved to legalize, an analysis from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) that was released in June found.

Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes overall increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to a report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts that year.

A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.


Published 1 day ago on October 15, 2021

Newsom vetoes bill that would have allowed cannabis advertising on freeway billboards

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation Friday that would have allowed cannabis products to be advertised on freeway billboards in most of California, a bill that sought to negate a court order in November that had banned the signs.

The bill would have permitted marijuana ads on billboards along interstate freeways and state highways that cross state borders, except within 15 miles of another state.

“When the voters passed Proposition 64, they enacted robust protections shielding youth from exposure to cannabis and cannabis advertising,” Newsom said in a veto message. “Among other things, voters completely prohibited billboard-based cannabis advertising on all Interstate Highways, and on all State Highways that cross the California border. Allowing advertising on these high-traffic thoroughfares could expose young passengers to cannabis advertising.”

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Union City) said his bill was necessary to help the state’s legal cannabis industry, which has struggled in the face of high taxes and bans on cannabis shops by most cities.

“We have not done enough to help the legal cannabis industry thrive,” Quirk said. “The legal cannabis industry has a very limited and narrow set of marketing avenues available to them. Removing their ability to promote their legitimate business along hundreds of miles of roadway does nothing but help the illicit market.”

A judge ruled in November that California officials exceeded their authority when they allowed commercial cannabis businesses to advertise on billboards along the state’s interstate freeways in violation of Proposition 64, the legalization initiative approved by California voters in 2016.

State officials interpreted Proposition 64’s provision barring ads on interstate highways as meaning they could ban billboards within 15 miles radius of the state border but allow them elsewhere.

The state Bureau of Cannabis Control determined that allowing billboards, except within 15 miles of a border, “satisfied the intent of Proposition 64” and also “provided assurance that licensees, including those located in jurisdictions along the California border, would still have an opportunity to advertise and market their commercial cannabis operations within the radius limitations.”

However, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Ginger E. Garrett ruled that Proposition 64, because it was approved by voters, could not be amended by the state bureau through a regulation.

The ruling forced the state to direct cannabis firms to remove their ads from billboards in areas that included 4,315 miles of interstate highways, including the 5 and the 80, and state highways that cross state borders.

Attorney Saro Rizzo filed the lawsuit on behalf of a San Luis Obispo father of two who thought Proposition 64 would prohibit freeway ads that could be seen by his teenagers. Rizzo said the bill was improper because the state Constitution requires changes to initiatives to be put to a vote of the people unless the ballot measure provides for legislative amendment, which Proposition 64 did not.


“It unconstitutionally seeks to amend Proposition 64 in a manner contrary to the purposes and intent of the act because it eviscerates Prop. 64’s mandate of a blanket ban on those highways,” Rizzo said of the legislation.

Rizzo noted that Newsom was instrumental in putting Proposition 64 on the ballot and was the highest-level politician who supported the initiative.

“Needless to say, he was, and is, well aware of Prop. 64’s ban on marijuana billboard ads,” Rizzo said.

The lawyer citied a ballot argument submitted by proponents of the initiative that, appearing in the official voter guide, said Proposition 64 “contains the nation’s strictest child protections: warning labels, child-resistant packaging, and advertising restrictions, and it requires keeping marijuana out of public view, away from children.”

Rizzo had called on the governor to veto the new legislation “in order to remain true to your own words and to uphold the will of the voters,” and to “prioritize children’s health and safety over corporate cannabis profits.”

Cannabis enters the California State Fair competition

Next to wine, cheese, olive oils and craft beer, marijuana cultivation will be judged for the first time at one of the world’s largest state fairs.


CALIFORNIA, USA — The best of California’s commodities are showcased at county and state fairs. Now for the first time ever, cannabis is entering the competition at the California State Fair.

“We are going to be educating what that means and really having campaigns around education and teaching people about what the cannabis plant is,” said Brian Applegarth, CEO of Cultivar Brands.

The California State Fair will return in July 2022 which will be a historic year for the first-ever state-sanctioned cannabis competition and awards.

Just like the top wine, cheese, olive oils, and craft beers made in the Golden State, 7,000 of the state’s licensed cannabis cultivators could earn 77 awards and seven of the coveted Golden Bear trophies.

“We also want to say to the industry, ‘you deserve recognition.’ If you are producing the best cannabis in the state of California you deserve an award just like the best winemaker in California,” said Jess Durfee, California State Fair Board Chairman.

He said judges will not be smoking cannabis on or off-site.

“We are being respectful of some of the concerns people may have. For example, there will be no consumption of cannabis authorized during the state fair or at the state fairgrounds,” said Durfee.

Judging is done a few months prior and consuming is not part of the panel.

The state is partnering with Cultivar Brands for the awards and there are three divisions: Indoor, mixed light and outdoor which will be based on cannabinoids and terpenes and submitted to the well-known cannabis testing company SC Labs.

“This is all about science and really getting lab test results and seeing what compounds are within the cannabis plant,” said Applegrath.

In 2016, California voters approved pot for recreational use and two years later commercial cannabis became legal.

Joel Weisberger owns White Mountain Farms cannabis in Oceanside, he’s also the chairman of the San Diego County Farm Bureau Cannabis Working Group.

“People have been having fun with it for years by hiding it in the shadows. It’s time to bring it out and share with everyone,” said Weisberger.

Supporters of the cannabis awards say they hope this will normalize and destigmatize California’s multimillion-dollar cannabis industry.

“We have an obligation to educate Californians about the cannabis industry,” said Durfee. “Over time I think that we are going to find cannabis is one of the most valued commodities coming out to agriculture.”

The San Diego County Fair released the following statement:

“Our San Diego County Fair exhibits and competitions are reflective of the agriculture, arts and business in the local communities we represent. California State Fair’s competition is intriguing and we’ll be interested to learn more about it, but as of yet we haven’t considered holding cannabis competitions at our Fair.”

Cannabis entries will be accepted between November 1, 2021, to March 30, 2022, and winners will be announced ahead of the fair in May 2022.



California Governor Signs Bill To Allow Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals For Severely Ill Patients

The governor of California on Tuesday signed a bill to require hospitals to permit medical marijuana use by certain patients.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) approved the legislation, signaling that his prior concerns about an earlier version that he reluctantly vetoed in 2019 have since been resolved.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ben Hueso (D), has been pushing for his measure to allow cannabis use in medical facilities for terminally ill patients over multiple sessions. He recently sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeking clarification on whether the policy change could jeopardize federal funding for those facilities.

“It is inconceivable to me that, in a state where medical cannabis was legalized more than 25 years ago, those in deepest suffering receiving treatment in our state’s healthcare facilities cannot access this proven, effective and prescribed treatment,” Hueso said in a press release.

“Instead, terminally-ill patients in California healthcare facilities are given heavy opiates that rob them of their precious last moments with family and friends,” he said. “This is a simple, yet critical, move that will provide relief, compassion and dignity to terminally-ill Californians.”

Hueso received a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) several months ago stating that there are no federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that the agency isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.

“With this confirmation from CMS and the safeguards in the law, we are confident that healthcare facilities have the necessary authority to implement these provisions while ensuring the safety of other patients, guests, and employees of the healthcare facility, compliance with other state laws, and the safe operations of the healthcare facility,” the senator said.

There are some restrictions embedded in the new law. For example, patients receiving treatment for emergency care wouldn’t be covered, and smoking and vaping marijuana would be prohibited. It also stipulates that hospitals aren’t required to provide or dispense cannabis.

Newsom didn’t release a statement about the hospitals bill, which his office announcedhe signed along with more than two dozen other pieces of unrelated legislation.

The legislation was partly inspired by the experience of a father whose son died from cancer and was initially denied access to cannabis at a California hospital. Jim Bartell did eventually find a facility that agreed to allow the treatment, and he has said his son’s quality of life improved dramatically in those last days.


“In the invaluable last days as Ryan fought stage 4 pancreatic cancer, I first-handedly experienced the positive impact medical cannabis had on my son’s well-being, as opposed to the harsh effects of opiates,” Bartell said. “Medical cannabis is an excellent option for relieving pain and suffering in those who are terminally-ill, but most importantly it serves to provide compassion, support, and dignity to patients and their families, during their loved-ones’ final days.”

“Looking at each other, holding Ryan’s hand and telling him how much I loved him during his final moments would not have been possible without the medical cannabis,” he said.

Also pending on Newsom’s desk is a bill to set up a regulatory framework for hemp-derived CBD sales that also removes the ban on smokable hemp products.

Separately, a California bill that passed the Senate and several Assembly committees to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca has stalled following a decision by the sponsor that more time is needed to build the case for the reform and solidify its chances of being enacted.

Meanwhile, California activists have also recently been cleared to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.

Published on September 29, 2021