- - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Do you think there’s a correlation between marijuana legalization and lower crime levels?

I certainly don’t. However, some individuals and groups are attempting to creatively connect the dots using some local data collected in Denver.

Colorado Amendment 64, a statewide ballot initiative during the November 2012 election concerning the “Use and Regulation of Cannabis,” passed with more than 55 percent support. This enabled 40 state-regulated, Denver-based stores to open their doors to potential consumers aged 21 years and older.

According to the local government document “Crime in the City and County of Denver Based on [Uniform Crime Reporting] Standards,” Denver hasn’t witnessed an increase in crime levels since marijuana legalization.

For example, overall violent crime went down 5.6 percent this year during the period of Jan. 1-April 30 from the previous year’s total. This included significant decreases in homicide (52.9 percent) and sexual assault (13.6 percent), and moderate decreases in robbery (4.8 percent) and aggravated assault (3.7 percent).

Meanwhile, overall property crime levels went down 11.4 percent during the same time period. This number included decreases in theft from motor vehicles (36.3 percent), auto theft (6.9 percent) and burglary (4.7 percent), and increases in non-motor-vehicle-related larceny (7.2 percent) and arson (135 percent).

These are encouraging numbers that are worthy of further study and observation, but I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and declare that a link between legalized pot and lower crime levels has suddenly been unearthed.

First, the various motives for violent and petty-theft crimes must be considered.

It’s true that some people break into homes to steal money, jewelry and other items to purchase alcohol and feed their drug habits. However, it’s equally true that people do it to get illegal weapons and money for personal needs, such as food and clothing, among other things. Some people simply rob homes for the thrill of it.

Where do these individuals fit in Denver’s statistics? Do they even fit at all? Not every criminal or would-be criminal uses marijuana on a regular basis. Hence, it’s virtually impossible to confirm whether legalized pot had anything to do with the individual decreases — or even increases — in the city’s crime levels.

It’s intriguing to me that some people didn’t look that closely at the overall crime numbers. They tell a rather interesting story, too.

Homicides decreased from 17 in 2013 to eight in 2014. That’s more than half, but both numbers are infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things.

Sexual assault dropped from 110 in 2013 to 95 in 2014. Robbery went from 351 in 2013 to 334 in 2014. Aggravated assault declined from 709 in 2013 to 683 in 2014.

In fairness, the 135 percent increase in arson was caused by a jump from 20 cases in 2013 to 47 in 2014. It’s not insignificant, but it’s not huge, either. There is also one statistic — the reduction of theft from motor vehicles from 2,317 instances in 2013 to 1,477 in 2014 — that looks promising for supporters of legalized marijuana. Petty theft from automobiles is often related to money, electronics and drugs. If this number continues to decline in further studies, there could be a significant research opportunity in the making.

I’m obviously not suggesting we ignore any of these numbers. A decrease in crime is a decrease, and a welcome one. In each case, though, the drop is fairly small.

However, there may be a much simpler explanation for these statistics. A 2013 Gallup poll named Denver the second-safest-feeling city in the United States. The reason people feel safe in a particular city is owing to its reputation for safety. Ergo, Denver’s crime levels are unlikely to rapidly increase or decrease.

What if we legalized marijuana in some of America’s most violent cities, such as Detroit, Oakland and Milwaukee? Would we see the same result that Denver is experiencing? I strongly doubt it. If anything, wider availability of drugs such as marijuana could increase overall crime levels in these cities. That’s hardly something most Americans would welcome.

Finally, are we really improving society by simply placating — or to put it more crudely — “drugging” individuals with addiction or drug problems?

As I’ve written in the past, I support marijuana decriminalization because I don’t feel people should have permanent criminal records for possessing a few joints. The push for marijuana legalization has always worried me for a number of reasons, however.

Unscientific assumptions such as a correlation between pot use and reduced crime levels is certainly one of them.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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