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States See Crime Rates Fall as Marijuana Becomes Legalized

New research has shown that violent crime rates in states that border Mexico have significantly dropped in the wake of medical marijuana being legalized. According the study, which is entitled "Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime," violent crimes fell by an average of 13 percent in states that border Mexico and that have legalized medicinal marijuana. This is significant because most of America's marijuana comes from Mexico. Specifically, seven major drug cartels control the flow of illicit drugs to and from the U.S.

Per economist and study co-author Evelina Gavrilova: "These laws allow local farmers to grow marijuana that can then be sold to dispensaries where it is sold legally. These growers are in direct competition with Mexican drug cartels that are smuggling the marijuana into the US. As a result, the cartels get much less business.” And because these cartels are seeing less activity, drug-related violence is on the decline.

Gavrilova continued: "[The cartels] compete for territory, but it’s also easy to steal product from the other cartels and sell it themselves, so they fight for the product. They also have to defend their territory and ensure there are no bystanders, no witnesses to the activities of the cartel." When medical marijuana laws are put into effect, crime at the border is effectively decreased due to the reduction in smuggling and the violence often born of that smuggling.

Of course, the cartels still have business coming in from other drugs, like cocaine, heroin, and meth, but the marijuana market is by far the largest illicit drug market in the U.S. and, as such, is the market through which cartels stand to make the largest profits. Case in point: it costs about $75 to produce a pound of marijuana in Mexico, which can then be sold to the incredibly inflated $6,000, depending on the quality of the product.

Gavrilova compiled data with fellow researchers Takuma Kamada and Floris Zoutman from crime reports and supplementary homicide reports submitted by the FBI for the years of 1994 to 2012. The reports illustrated that California had experienced the most significant drop in violent crime (15 percent), and Arizona the lowest (seven percent). The crimes that were most affected were robbery, which dropped 19 percent, and murder, which dropped 10 percent. Another jaw-dropping number was the reduction in homicides related to the drug trade, which fell by 41 percent.

The authors of the study believe this data can offer insight into ways to reduce violent crimes associated with drug trafficking. However, the publication of the study comes on the heels of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement to withdraw the Obama administration's policy that has, until this point, supported lax restrictions toward those who use medical marijuana.

Says Gavrilova: "When the effect on crime is so significant, it’s obviously better to regulate marijuana and allow people to pay taxes on it rather than make it illegal. For me it’s a no brainer that it should be legal and should be regulated, and the proceeds go to the Treasury.” Medical marijuana is legal in more than 20 states, and within those states, there is one marijuana dispensary for every six normal pharmacies.