Correlation between Violent Crime Arrests and Recreational Marijuana Legalization

The 84th Texas Legislature saw a wide array of issues, but perhaps most interesting was the emphasis that the legislature placed on the use of medicinal and recreational marijuana. Because of the numerous amount of Texans currently in state prisons for minor drug crimes, if Texas were to legalize recreational marijuana there would be benefits ranging from smaller prison populations to drops in the crime rates. The first step was taken when Governor Abbott signed SB 339 (26–5), the most successful marijuana bill, authorizing the use of “low-THC” cannabis oils for individuals suffering from epilepsy and other chronic illnesses, while members of the Texas House took it a step further with HB 2165, authored by David Simpson (R-Longview), authorizing recreational marijuana use. Although HB 2165 didn’t get to see the house floor, it cleared the Criminal Jurisprudence committee, Chaired by Abel Herrero (D-Robstown), with a 5–2 vote. Despite the fact that passing through a majority republican committee was a major step for HB 2165, the bill has already received strong opposition from Governor Abbott, stating “As governor, I will not allow it” (Hershaw, 2015). If HB 2165 were to come to fruition, Texas would be joining only four other states in the union who have legalized marijuana: Alaska (2015), Colorado (2012), Oregon (2014), and Washington (2012). Colorado and Washington, the pioneering states of legalized recreational marijuana, have seen positive impacts on their economy but more specifically, the rate at which violent crimes are being committed. Therefore, if Texas is to legalize recreational marijuana, following the same path as Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, then their violent crime rate will also diminish.

Currently, there are roughly 155,000 individuals behind bars in TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) facilities costing tax payers roughly $18,538 per individual per year (TCJC, 2016). Of those 155,000 individuals , approximately 30% of incoming inmates are admitted for a drug offence (TCJC, 2016). These offences range from possession to delivery, however all non-violent. Moreover, an average of 123,724 individuals are arrested in Texas for drug crimes, with an overall positive increasing trend from 1999 to 2014 (Figure 1). Texas also sees an average of 31,663 violent crime arrests, also with an overall neutral trend (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Arrests by Type in Texas

In comparison to Colorado and Washington, prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana in those states, Texas was arresting more individuals, with respect to population and those arrested for drug crimes, than both Colorado and Washington (Figure 1 & 2). After the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012, Colorado and Washington saw approximately 10% decline in the numbers of individuals arrested for drug offences (Figure 2). While the legalization of recreational marijuana did not completely reduce the number of individuals arrested for drug offences, this drastic reduction in inmate population, as well as the tax revenue accumulated through the license of marijuana dispensaries and sale of marijuana allowed for these states to operate in the black. It can easily be said that Texas, like Colorado and Washington, will see a massive decrease in drug crime arrests, thus a decrease in incarceration rates related to drug crimes, with the passage of a legalization law.

Figure 2: Drug Crime Arrests in States with Legalized Recreational Marijuana

Ultimately, more than half of those incarcerated in TDCJ facilities are there for violent crimes, including: homicide and non-negligible manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (TCJC, 2016). Texas has been able to maintain a steady average of individuals arrested for these violent crimes since 1999, thanks in most part to heavy policing (Figure 1). The same can be said for Colorado and Washington until the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012 (Figure 3). This increase could be attributed to two different things: the natural variation of violent crime in these two states (as shown between 1999 and 2012), or, the legalization of recreational marijuana actually has increased the number of violent crimes.

Figure 3: Violent Crime Arrests in States with Legalized Recreational Marijuana

While the Texas Legislature is working toward legalizing recreational marijuana, the steps that Texas has taken toward legalization are very small. Like the states that have legalized the use of recreational marijuana, Texas will ultimately run into issues with marijuana being a Schedule I drug, or a drug classified by the DEA to have a high potential for physical or psychological dependence. Since marijuana would not be legalized on the federal level, there is the possibility that the Federal Government steps in and ends the industry. This is an issue that faces all states with legalized marijuana, currently. Another issue that Texas faces is that of doctors prescribing (in accordance with SB 339) the low potency cannabis oil. Since there is no legal protection for these doctors, there is also the possibility that they could also get into legal trouble. Until there is federal legislation enacted, there will always be these concerns.

All data used in the production of these graphics was obtained from “Table 69” from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “Crime in the US” databases.