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The Effects of Recreational Marijuana Legalization on Drug-related Crime: Evidence From Colorado, Oregon, and Washington

The legalization of recreational marijuana is known to be a very controversial policy proposal and more research is needed to make accurate claims on the social consequences that may come from approval. In this research, Professor Wu and I are very interested in the effects that recreational legislation creates in impact on drug-specific crime in those states, and the possible spillover of that legalization on drug-specific crime in states that neighbor. The proposed research question goes as follows: Have states with recreational marijuana laws experienced a substantial increase or decrease in such drug-specific crimes as possession and sales of marijuana, heroin, synthetic narcotic, and other drugs? Drug-specific crimes will be defined as actions such as drug possession arrests and sales arrests. Researching this impact is imperative as more and more states are following others in its recreational legalization. There exists competing views about whether legalization would increase or decrease crime. Opponents argue that marijuana legalization would increase crime not only because marijuana may be the gateway to more serious drugs, but also because of the potential criminogenic effects of the increasing presence of marijuana dispensaries. Proponents assert that legalization would lead to lower crime rates given the decriminalization of this drug and the reduction in the underground marijuana market that tends to generate criminal activities. Proponents also argue that legalization would have a crime-reducing effect because the police would be able to allocate resources and efforts to more serious crimes rather than focusing on marijuana possession arrests, which would in turn lead to increased crime clearance rates and deterrence effects. Preliminary data results show that more serious drug crime increases with the presence of the legalization in recreational states while lowering marijuana crime. More analysis is needed to provide a greater insight on the preliminary results.

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Roarke Cullenbine


Guangzhen Wu


Roarke Cullenbine, Dr. Guangzhen Wu

Type: Poster
Discipline: Social and Behavioral Sciences
Institution: University of Utah

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