US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently penned an opinion article in the Washington Post. He wrote that the illegal drug business generates violence and violent crime. True enough.
He further noted that violent crime is down by half since the War on Drugs peaked in 1991. Again, this is true.
Then he noted that as marijuana laws and federal sentencing guidelines have been relaxed, violent crime rates have increased. He noted that “In 2015, the United States suffered the largest single-year increase in the overall violent crime rate since 1991.” That is also true, but it is highly misleading, to say the least. It is like claiming that you have never dealt with the Russians only to find out that you have dealt with the Russians on several occasions and then used a semantic trick to prevent yourself from going to jail.
The violent crime rate in 1996 was 637 per 100,000 of population. In 2015, the violent crime rate was 373, a decrease of over 40%. Over this period there were a few years of small increases, but most years saw noteworthy declines. In 2014 there were 1.15 million violent crimes and in 2015 there were 1.20 million violent crimes in the United States. That moved the violent crime rate from 361.6 in 2014 to 372.6 in 2015, or an increase of 11 violent crimes per 100,000 population, or an increase of 3% in the violent crime rate.
With crime statistics, as with many social indicators, there is more revealing information below the national aggregate statistics. Many academic and professional criminologists have noted that the recent increase in violent crime occurs mainly in very large cities. According to the numbers, from January to June 2015–2016 the murder rate increased by 9.7% in cites with a population of more than one million people and the murder rate increased by 21.6%. The murder rate increased by 10.9% in metropolitan areas and decreased by 14.7% in non-metropolitan areas over the same period.
During the same period in the city of Denver — where recreational marijuana has been legal since late 2012 — violent crime was virtually unchanged. The homicide rate did not increase at all. In the state of Colorado overall the homicide rate fell from 2013 to 2015, decreasing from 3.3 to 3.2 per 100,000.1
In San Francisco, one of California’s most crime prone cities, the rate of violent crime actually decreased from 2014 to 2015.
Attorney General Sessions’s argument really does not make any sense. Legalized marijuana greatly reduces the size of the illegal drug market and the violence it causes, both by eliminating the illegal marijuana market and by encouraging producers and consumers to switch from hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth to marijuana/cannabis which is non-addictive and non-lethal.
Sessions is using this argument to protect his plans to crack down on legal dispensaries in states that have legalized recreational and medical marijuana. He is also trying to block the passage of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which would protect states that have enacted medical marijuana programs from federal interference. He recently sent a letter to Congressional leaders demanding that Congress set aside the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment.
Medical marijuana/cannabis is now legal in 30 states. Legal medical use by authorized patients is supported by 94% of Americans. Regulated recreational use is supported by over 60% of Americans and rising.
How do we explain Sessions’s efforts? He is neither a medical doctor nor a sociologist. His rationale is based on his notion that “only bad people smoke pot,” but this is obviously not the case. Could it be that he has a “reefer madness” point of view where marijuana/cannabis causes people to go insane, cause violent crimes, and die in quick order as we see in horror movies of the 1930s?
Maybe someone should check on the donor list to his latest senate campaign. Might we find the alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical, and corporate prison industries listed prominently?
1. 2015 data is the most recently available for the whole state.
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