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Legalization and Crime Reduction: Ending Prohibition Will Improve Public Safety

When people talk about cannabis, the relationship between legalization and crime is often front and centre in the discussion.

Our Prime Minister has been clear that a few of the primary reasons his government is legalizing cannabis is to implement laws to restrict access and keep the products out of the hands of our youth, and ensure street gangs and criminal organizations stop profiting from the industry.

And, the fact that the current regime is criminalizing thousands of Canadians can’t be left out of the conversation about how legalization will affect crime in our country.

But, research is also showing that legalization is reducing the violent crime rates in jurisdictions that have ended cannabis prohibition. When cannabis is legalized, people don't have to resort to illegal means to get it, and that decreases violence and improves the overall safety of a community.

When cannabis is legalized, drug-related crimes for the sale, possession, cultivation, and consumption of cannabis are obviously expected to drop significantly. But, in the US, studies have shown that legal cannabis also reduces violence, and significantly decreases the incidents of murder and violent crime.

This is the case in several US states bordering Mexico, as drug cartels lose business to regulation. The study found that the rate of violent crime – including robberies, murders and aggravated assaults – fell by 12.5 per cent in counties close to the border after the introduction of cannabis laws.

The business of organized crime is known to be associated with extreme levels of violence. So, if you take away the business, you take away the need for violence. The researchers used data from a number of sources, including FBI Uniform Crime Reports and the census, and made sure to control for factors like poverty levels, employment and education statistics.

Other jurisdictions that regulated and legalized the cannabis industry have experienced similar declines in violent crime. In Washington State, violent crime rates decreased by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014. Portland, Oregon, saw crime rates drop since legalizing cannabis as well.

However, it’s important to point out that public education is the foundation for the successful implementation of a legalized cannabis regime: we must keep our youth safe, keep our roads safe and reduce the impact of criminal activity. This will happen through education.

In addition, governments must provide appropriate police training and resources to address any potential issues that arise. And, an effective pricing and taxation system needs to be implemented to create competitive pricing structures that can undercut illegal cannabis.