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Legalizing Drugs Will Reduce the Crime Rate, but at What Cost?

Updated: Mar 15

Drug legalization has been one of the most debated topics among state legislatures and Congress for decades. It is one of many issues that affect nearly the entire population of the United States and is so multifaceted that there is no clear solution.


However, due to the correlation between U.S. drug usage and the incarceration rate, it can be deduced that drug legalization would objectively reduce the national crime rate. Nearly 1/4 of all jailed inmates are those with drug-related convictions. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, ten percent of jailed inmates were imprisoned for possession alone. If all drugs were legalized, crimes like possession would no longer be recognized, which would effectively reduce the national crime rate by 10%.


There are many other drug-related crimes committed besides possession, buying or selling, some of which are violent. For example, due to the illegality of selling a drug like marijuana, a seller cannot notify the police if someone steals their product, or else the seller risks arrest. This results in sellers taking matters into their own hands to protect their income and product—we see this in gang and cartel activity, for example. If these drugs were legalized, would related crime persist? There is evidence to suggest it would not.


A 2014 report from the Reason Foundation concluded that “the introduction of MML (Medical Marijuana Laws) in a state was associated with a reduction in the overall incidence of “Part 1 offenses” (homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft). The effect seems to have been largely driven by reductions in homicide and assault, which fell by approximately 2.4% for each additional year the MML law was in effect.”  Eliminating the black market of drugs also reduces related violent crime since fewer illegal drug deals would occur thus reducing potential conflict as a result.


There are also concerns about the possibility of crime increasing due to increased drug usage following legalization. It is predicted that DUIs will increase due to heightened drug usage as well as vandalism. However, if drug sales were permitted, the government could tax the sale and obtain income from the product that wouldn’t exist at all during drug prohibition. This tax revenue could be invested into crime prevention methods like increased law enforcement, rehabilitation services and homeless outreach programs, etc.. This investment could potentially combat additional DUIs and vandalism while still reducing overall crime through the legalization of drugs.


Even though there is evidence to support the reduction of crime through the legalization of drugs, said evidence should be heavily examined before any major legislation is passed. While there is justification for the legalization of marijuana due to its lack of seriously damaging effects, other drugs are vastly different and impact individuals in different ways. Drugs of a more damaging caliber should undergo more intense screening before legalization is considered. While drug legalization may reduce crime and could benefit the United States, each drug should be individually researched and examined before critical decisions are made.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

 

Sources


“Correctional Populations and Facilities.” Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 June 2021, https://bjs.ojp.gov/drugs-and-crime-facts/correctional-populations-and-facilities


Duke, Steven B. How Drug Legalization Would Cut Crime, https://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Misc/media2.htm


Lynch G W Lynch; R Blotner, G W, and R Blotner. “Legalizing Drugs Would Not Reduce Crime (from Legalizing Drugs, P 110-113, 1996, Karin L. Swisher, Ed. -- See NCJ- 160030).” Legalizing Drugs Would Not Reduce Crime (From Legalizing Drugs, P 110-113, 1996, Karin L. Swisher, Ed. -- See NCJ- 160030) | Office of Justice Programs, 1996, https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/legalizing-drugs-would-not-reduce-crime-legalizing-drugs-p-110-113


Morris, Julian. “Does Legalizing Marijuana Reduce Crime? - Reason Foundation.” DOES LEGALIZING MARIJUANA REDUCE CRIME?, Sept. 2018, https://reason.org/wp-content/uploads/does-legalizing-marijuana-reduce-crime.pdf


Pearl, Betsy. “Ending the War on Drugs: By the Numbers.” Center for American Progress, 27 June 2018, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/criminal-justice/reports/2018/06/27/452819/ending-war-drugs-numbers/


Stares, Paul. “Drug Legalization?: Time for a Real Debate.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 July 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/drug-legalization-time-for-a-real-debate/.

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