by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for nonmedical use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Many more have created exceptions in their laws to allow for medical marijuana use.
And even in states that do not by statute allow recreational marijuana use, some liberal cities have backed away from prosecuting lower-level drug use or possession crimes, including those related to marijuana.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, for example, announced last spring that her prosecutors would no longer go after prostitution and drug possession — more than a year before her state moved to legalize recreational marijuana use. Voters in the state will decide whether to legalize the drug in November.
Crime has skyrocketed in Baltimore over the past two years. The city is experiencing a record number of homicides, which are up 31% this year over last.
But whether loosening the rules around marijuana has led directly to an increase in crime, in Baltimore and elsewhere, is nearly impossible to determine.
Cities that decriminalize marijuana use tend to be led by Democrats who have pursued a host of criminal justice reforms in concert with their shift in approach to marijuana, such as ending cash bail systems, declining to try juveniles as adults, and encouraging more lenient plea deals that put criminals back into society more quickly.
The effect of all those policies together can contribute to a rise in crime — not just the change in policing cannabis. And many legalization laws long predate the increase in violence that has gripped the nation since the start of the pandemic.
Betsy Brantner Smith, a retired police sergeant and spokeswoman for the National Police Association, said legalizing marijuana can cause downstream effects for law enforcement officers in jurisdictions where the drug is legal.