The legalization of marijuana for recreational use has gained traction – and garnered controversy – in recent years. A burgeoning but still relatively limited body of research is beginning to explore the impact of marijuana legalization on a variety of outcomes. A recent study by Abt Associates, funded by the National Institute of Justice, explores one of the main controversies around this topic: Does opening recreational marijuana retail outlets have an effect on crime in the surrounding neighborhood? For this study, Abt explored this question using data from Washington State. The analyses find modest but statistically significant increases in property crime in neighborhoods with new retail outlets. While these results add to a growing body of research that shows increases in crime in multiple settings where marijuana has been legalized, the increases are generally small, making it unclear whether policy action is warranted. The causes of these increases also are unclear. They may include the infusion of cash into those neighborhoods because banks can’t handle transactions involving a substance that is illegal at the federal level. It’s also possible that those who use marijuana are more likely to commit property crimes than violent crimes, though we have no data about who committed the reported offenses or why. Additional research is needed to further explore the association, for instance, in other states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
November 9, 2021