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Study: Marijuana Decriminalization Leads To Decreased Arrests, No Increase In Youth Use

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 15, 2018

    State laws reducing minor marijuana possession offenses from criminal to civil violations (aka decriminalization) are associated with dramatic reductions in drug-related arrests, and are not linked to any uptick in youth cannabis use, according to data published by researchers at Washington University and the National Bureau of Economic Research.

    Investigators examined the associations between cannabis decriminalization and both arrests and youth cannabis use in five states that passed decriminalization measures between the years 2008 and 2014: Massachusetts (decriminalized in 2008), Connecticut (2011), Rhode Island (2013), Vermont (2013), and Maryland (2014). Data on cannabis use were obtained from state Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) surveys; arrest data were obtained from federal crime statistics.

    Authors reported: “Decriminalization of cannabis in five states between the years 2009 and 2014 was associated with large and immediate decreases in drug-related arrests for both youth and adults. … The sharp drop in arrest rates suggests that implementation of these policies likely changed police behavior as intended.”

    They further reported: “Decriminalization was not associated with increased cannabis use either in aggregate or in any of the five states analyzed separately, nor did we see any delayed effects in a lag analysis, which allowed for the possibility of a two-year (one period) delay in policy impact. In fact, the lag analysis suggested a potential protective effect of decriminalization.” In two of the five states assessed, Rhode Island and Vermont, researchers determined that the prevalence of youth cannabis use declined following the enactment of decriminalization.

    Investigators concluded: “[I]mplementation of cannabis decriminalization likely leads to a large decrease in the number of arrests among youth (as well as adults) and we see no evidence of increases in youth cannabis use. On the contrary, cannabis use rates declined after decriminalization, though further study is needed to determine if these associations are causal. These findings are consistent with the interpretation that decriminalization policies likely succeed with respect to their intended effects and that their short-term unintended consequences are minimal.”

    Thirteen states currently impose either partial or full decriminalization. Nine additional states have subsequently moved to fully legalize the use of marijuana by adults.

    Full text of the study, “Cannabis decriminalization: A study of recent policy change in five states,” is available online here. Additional fact-sheets regarding the societal impacts of decriminalization policies are available from the NORML website here.

    9 responses to “Study: Marijuana Decriminalization Leads To Decreased Arrests, No Increase In Youth Use”

    1. Sean says:

      Yet Trump wants to enshrine Duterte/SE Asia hangman drug laws in the US: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/03/15/exclusive-trump-finalizing-opioid-plan-death-penalty-418488

      More MAGAtry for you.

    2. propot says:

      Of course youth use declines after decriminalization…the “bad boy or girl” effect is gone. No need to do it any more if the thrill of getting away with using it is gone. That has been proven in places like Portugal and the Netherlands. But yet there are those that still believe it has to be kept illegal for the kids.

      • Evening Bud says:

        I never used to buy that argument–but now fully subscribe to it, as I’ve seen it directly myself.

        • Mark Mitcham says:

          Yeah, I have reached the age where, the teenagers come in the room unexpectedly, and bust the old fart (me) smoking pot! Talk about irony. Some things never change! I am still having to palm my pipe!

    3. Julian says:

      Good work out of Washington University! It’s so good to see important longitudinal studies coming out of the the heartland of America.
      And yet, according to Carly’s previous post, Kevin Sabet and Smart Approaches are still trying to give the old “What about our youth” scare tactics and lies in committee hearings? We should put lie detectors in hearings. I bet a nervous first time marijuana reformer has less graph variation than Kevin Sabet on the mic.

      Decrim is better than prohibition, but without a legal market violent cartels get richer and there’s no testing for safety and quality. But then Vermont started with decrim and look at them now?

    4. Anonymous says:

      in – Google Accounts

    5. Anonymous says:

      THE REASON THE USE OF WEED HAS NOT JUMPED UP IS…. DRUM ROLL BA BOOM …. YOU NEVER STOPED ANYONE FROM SMOKING WEED …….. SO ALL ALONG ANYONE WHO WANTED TO SMOKE HAS NEVER STOPPED … THEY CAN PASS AS MANY LAWS THEY WANT WE THE PEOPLE ARE GONNA SMOKE IT ANYWAY ….. BECAUSE IT’S SAFE,EFFECTIVE, AND JUST ABOUT BETTER THAN ANYTHING BIG PHARMA HAS TO OFFER AND YOU CAN GROW IT YOURSELF….. IMAGINE YOU MAKEING YOUR MEDICINE AT HOME WOULD THAT BE GREAT ,…….GOD I CAINT WAIT FOR ALL THIS NONSENSE TO STOP MAKE IT LEGAL FOR ALL …………….

    6. Tammy Sanford says:

      ITS A DREAM COME TRUE IF TRUMP GOT ON AND SAID OK FREE FOR ALL BUT WHO ARE WE KIDDING THEYRE NOT GONNA DO ANYTHING THATS NOT GONNA MAKE THEM MONEY THAT INCLUDES STILL NEEDING A # OF PEOPLE IN JAIL TO MAKE THEIR QUOTA JUST LIKE WRITING TICKETS DAILY AND TO KEEP THE PRISON SYSTEM GOING!?

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