Article by Scott Johnstone, Lift
In another recent Lift article we’ve chronicled some of the key events that led up to the announcement of Canada’s legalization bill. Here we take a look at some of the key events likely to be seen in the months and years following the implementation of that bill, if and when it makes it through the ratification process.
These projections are based on what has been demonstrated by U.S. states that have legalized cannabis, like Colorado, Washington, and California, as well as states and countries that have decriminalized cannabis, like Portugal. Some of these results were exactly what everyone expected, but some surprised both critics and advocates alike.
1) A drop in crime rates
Having suffered a century of propagandists associating cannabis with gangs and criminal activity, one of the biggest concerns among policy makers in locales where legalization has been discussed has been the potential for an increase in cannabis access leading to an increase in crime rates. But statistics from states and countries that have implemented increases in cannabis access not only fail to demonstrate a rise in crime rates—in many cases they indicate the opposite.
The state of Washington saw a 10 per cent drop in violent crimes within the first three years after cannabis was legalized. In Colorado, Denver saw a 6.9 per cent drop in violent crime in its first year of legalization, accompanied by an 11.1 per cent drop in property crime.
While California hasn’t seen any changes in overall crime rates associated with cannabis legalization, there has been a notable decrease in drug arrests among young offenders. A state law signed into effect by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 bolstered California’s existing decriminalization regime by reclassifying simple cannabis possession from a misdemeanor to a civic infraction. The result, surpassing even some of the most lofty expectations, was that decriminalization was identified as the largest contributor to an over 47 per cent reduction in youth drug offense arrests in the following year.
2) Social program stimulus
A lower crime rate means reduced judicial and law enforcement burdens on regional and federal budgets. Enforcement is expensive. Prosecution is expensive. Incarceration is expensive. When cannabis offenses are removed from the equation, money the taxpayers would have been putting towards enforcing prohibition can be reallocated to social programs across the board.