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Impact of Marijuana Law Enforcement in an Economic Model of Crime

NCJ Number
Journal of Drug Issues Volume: 37 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 2007 Pages: 403-424
Edward M. Shephard; Paul R. Blackley
Date Published
22 pages
Using data from a pooled sample of just over 1,300 U.S. counties (1994-2001), this study compared trends in arrests for the sale and possession of marijuana with trends in selected property and violent crimes, in order to determine whether current enforcement policies for the control of marijuana use provide net benefits greater than alternative strategies such as a legal, regulated marijuana market.
The study showed that marijuana arrests were positively associated with higher levels of property crime (burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft) and homicide during the period 1994-2001. Possession arrests were related to the commission of property crimes, and sales arrests were linked with burglary and homicide rates as well as arrests for hard drug possession. Improvements in enforcement ratios for total Part I crimes also contributed to lower rates of property crime. This suggests that arrest rates for Part I crimes provided a deterrent to the commission of property crimes. Effects of arrest rates for Part I crimes on homicide rates and hard drug possession were insignificant. Counties with higher unemployment rates experienced higher rates of burglary and arrests for hard drug possession, and increases in average annual wages were linked to lower rates of all types of crime assessed. These findings suggest that the recent focus on marijuana law enforcement has been counterproductive for addressing nondrug crime. The results imply that nondrug crime rates may decline because law enforcement resources may be directed against other criminal activity when marijuana arrests are given lower priority. In addition, users would not have to finance higher priced marijuana purchases related to supply disruptions, and sellers would not pursue alternative crime opportunities if the risk of arrest for the sale of marijuana declines. 4 tables, 20 notes, 46 references, and appended sample selection methodology, criminal offense definitions, and sources of variables used