What happens when you make pot cheap, legal and easy to get? Crime goes through the roof, right?

Well, apparently it doesn’t work that way. For all the arguments that weed is a gateway that leads to hard drugs and hard crime, actual statistics show something much different: In states where medical marijuana is legal, violent crime has dropped.

behind barsThat was the conclusion of a study that was published in the journal PLOS One March 26. Researchers studied nationwide crime data from the FBI between 1990 and 2006.

During that time, MMJ became legal in 11 states. And according to researchers, those states saw no notable increase in a wide range of crimes, including rape, assault, robbery, burglary, theft, and auto theft. That was true even relative to national crime rates, which dropped during this period.

That fact flies in the face of claims that medical marijuana (and, presumably, recreational weed) leads to more crime.

Opponents of legalization and MMJ like to claim marijuana dispensaries are crime magnets. The shops deal almost entirely in cash, carry large drug supplies, and attract customers who also carry drugs and cash.

But reality doesn’t bear this concern out. Even burglary and robbery, the crimes most associated with dispensaries, didn’t increase in states that adopted medical pot.

What’s more important, though, is the fact that homicides and assaults actually dropped in the MMJ states. The authors of the study were careful to note that this could be a quirk of their statistical approach. But they pointed to another possible explanation: More weed means less drinking, and less drinking means less crime.

“While it is important to remain cautious when interpreting these findings that [medical marijuana] reduces crime, these results do fall in line with recent evidence and they conform to the longstanding notion that marijuana legalization may lead to a reduction in alcohol use due to individuals substituting marijuana for alcohol,” wrote researchers Robert G. Morris, Michael TenEyck, J.C. Barnes, and Tomislav V. Kovandzic.

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“Given the relationship between alcohol and violent crime, it may turn out that substituting marijuana for alcohol leads to minor reduction in violent crimes that can be detected at the state level.”

Other researchers who have studied more recent data out of states with legal weed have likewise concluded that many drinkers switch to pot instead. This may contribute to lower rates of impaired driving, as well as lower crime rates.

The authors of the new study cautioned that each state’s unique makeup could explain its criminals’ reaction to the marijuana industry.

“Perhaps the more likely explanation of the current findings is that [medical marijuana] laws reflect behaviors and attitudes that have been established in those societies,” the authors wrote. “If these attitudes and behaviors reflect a more tolerant populace that is less likely to infringe on one another’s personal rights, we are unlikely to expect an increase in crime and might even anticipate a slight reduction in personal crimes.”

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