Where is Colorado’s predicted crime wave from legalisation?

Colorado legalised the sale of cannabis and the opponents predicted a massive crime wave as a result.

German Lopez at Vox explains reality vs scaremongering.

When Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sales, Denver embraced the opportunity with open arms.

The city is now home to more than 62 percent of all Colorado recreational marijuana retailers, who cashed in on $14 million in sales in January alone.

Other cities weren’t so eager: heeding legalization opponents’ safety concerns, several pushed off licensing retail sales. Some banned retail sales altogether.

“There will be many harmful consequences,” Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver warned in a September 2012 statement. “Expect more crime, more kids using marijuana, and pot for sale everywhere.”

One California sheriff went on Denver television to warn that, as a result of marijuana in his county, “thugs put on masks, they come to your house, they kick in your door. They point guns at you and say, ‘Give me your marijuana, give me your money.'”

Three months into its legalization experiment, Denver isn’t seeing a widespread rise in crime. Violent and property crimes actually decreased slightly, and some cities are taking a second look at allowing marijuana sales.  

“We had folks, kind of doomsayers, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have riots in the streets the day they open,'” Denver City Council President Mary Beth Susman, a supporter of legal marijuana, says. “But it was so quiet.”


Denver’s crime data shows a slight decrease in the past year: violent crime in January and February fell by 2.4 percent compared to the first two months of 2013.

Property crime has dropped too, showing that alarmism yet again has failed.

Other research also supports the anecdotal evidence coming out of Colorado.

Outside of Colorado, most research on crime and marijuana looks at legalization for medicinal purposes.One study published in PLOS ONE concluded the expansion of medical marijuana did not lead to more violent or property crime, and medical marijuana legalization might in fact correlate with a reduction in some crimes.

Researcher Robert Morris suggests that taking marijuana purchases out of an illicit market could reduce crime overall. “Perhaps there’s additional crime associated with the criminal marketplace to begin with,” he says.

Alternatively, crime could decrease if people began substituting alcohol with marijuana. “We know there’s a pretty strong link between alcohol misuse and crime, particularly in a person of violence,” Morris says. “There’s not as much of a correlation between marijuana use and crimes.”

Time to get sensible, and end reefer madness. The evidence strongly supports legalisation and there is almost no evidence to support continued criminalisation of cannabis.


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  • Pete George

    But there seems to be no political will to address it apart from the ALCP. The Greens seen lukewarm at best, it doesn’t fit with their marketing strategy. Cunliffe says Labour won’t decriminalise. No sign of anything from National on it. Winston and the rest aren’t likely to do anything.

    So we have momentum around the world, we have growing acknowledgement that things aren’t working here as they are but no sign of any change.

    Would this be a good issue to be driven non-partisan by the blogosphere?

    • nasska

      It will be an uphill battle to get an established political party to commit to changing the legislation. The potential for a backlash from the Godnutters & conservatives will scare the horses.

      Change in the 2014/17 cycle is unlikely in the extreme……further into the future common sense will get a toehold.

      • Pete George

        I agree – unless perhaps enough pressure can be applied. Make it an issue.

    • James

      The ACT leader is personally pro-legalisation; but isn’t pushing that view as ACT policy yet. Hopefully the ACT party will return to its more libertarian roots though and advocate for legalisation of marijuana.

  • Blokeintakapuna

    Legalise = self employment everywhere + additional PAYE/GST tax for NZ Inc

    Increase recreational fishing “rights” – decrease commercial fishing “rights”

    = win the election…

    …and I didn’t require any “Hey Clint” in the making of this statement either…

  • surfisup

    Mental health issues will certainly rise though.

    There is tons of evidence that dak abuse in the younger years can cause psychosis/schizophrenia.

    I’d be happy if sales were limited to 25+ as the evidence says it affects younger people.

    • Ramsey

      Yes it can affect some young people, but no more than legal highs.

      Let’s regulate it the same way we regulate alcohol.

      • nootherdave

        Synthetic Cannabis definately has a much higher likelihood of causing any mental illness as it is made from chemical ingredients.

        • We have no idea what’s in those compounds, so although you may feel you are intuitively right, there is no way for any of us to really know this.

          • nootherdave

            True, but what would be more trustworthy – a product which we do know about – its makeup and effects , or one that is mysterious and the chemical makeup can change from time to time to get around our current laws?

    • Justsayn

      Regulate it the same as the off-site sale of spirits (age restriction, outlets need a licence, not at supermarkets etc).

    • SirBrucey

      I am not so sure about the causative nature of the drug use. Were these people already suffering from a mental illness when first using drugs? As some one fairly recently diagnosed as bipolar I can attest to the fact that I used a lot of alcohol and drugs earlier in my life and rather than cause my illness they were attempts to self medicate a condition I didnt know about. From anecdotal evidence I believe there are many like me. Proving such causation in a scientific manner is extremely difficult.

      • Myangle

        No need for science, ask the parents of those teenagers (of which I am one) who have seen the life long damage done to there kids by smoking dope too young.

  • Toasty

    I’m not entirely sure how to articulate my thoughts on dope and alcohol.
    It amazes me that people are so desperate to get high or intoxicated that they will start political parties or interest groups to achieve this aim.

    “I really want to draw smoke into my lungs from some weird plant I found growing on the side of the road, so that I can skew my view on the world so much, that I think I will attend protests and start a new political party with this one aim”

    I don’t really care what people do as long as it doesn’t harm me but I struggle to understand why people care this much.

    disc: I have smoked and drunk in the past but I now find the thought of being drunk or stoned quite repellent. Life has shown a million other things that I would rather do.

    • nootherdave

      Fair call, you may not enjoy either – but some people do. I know people that are in successful careers and smoke, so it’s all down to personal preference. The main argument here is that prohibition never works; see how that went in USA with Alcohol in the 1930’s for example. It also gives power to Black Market dealers who sell Synthetic Cannabis which uses chemical ingredients to give highs, which is currently something prevalent in our current teenage society.

    • Ramsey

      But Toasty, do you not care about personal freedoms?
      Freedom to drink, freedom to smoke?
      Within reason of course (underage drinking/smoking laws, drive and drive laws, operation of machinery etc.). But still – as free adults, why do we have to leave it to the state as to what we choose to do with our own bodies and minds?

      • Toasty

        Personal freedom is fine but I guess I don’t understand the drive that some people have to alter their mind so much that they actively campaign for the right to do so.

        Personally I am of the opinion that most drugs and alcohol should be legal but you pay the medical bills and counselling costs for the results of your decisions.

        I don’t really know how this would work in practice and I have no suggestions but I kind of view it as a pruning process where the stupid weed themselves out of society.

        An example would be people who huff LPG. Go do it I say. Just don’t expect an ambulance when you overdo it.

  • Urban Redneck
    • nootherdave

      Buddy, that’s just backlash from all the Republican Conversatives over that way. All their supposed evidence is anecdotal. Black Market will fade away, just like it did for alcohol as people won’t mind having to pay more for a safe way to purchase something they want.

      • onelaw4all

        Who are these Republican Conversatives (sic) that you speak of?

        For the record, I have a libertarian approach to this issue,, providing that it is occurring in a place with no publicly funded health system to pay for the other end of the process.

        • nootherdave

          Read the comments field from the above link, and you will see what i mean.

  • David

    What I don’t understand is that an artificial untested version is legal for sale especially given that it is based on random formulas designed to get around the earlier series of bans which has made them worse and worse. I tried one of the earlier ones and it was a similar strength to marijuana but I tried one recently and it literally knocked me out so I am speaking from experience and never again (this was one puff). This is just insane! These products are exponential more harmful than the real thing but in order to enjoy that in the privacy of your own home without hurting anyone else you have to break the law and get ripped off by dodgy criminals. Make it legal, regulate it and tax it. It would end unemployment in Northland overnight :-)

  • Urban Redneck


    Widespread raids in November targeted more than a dozen marijuana
    businesses and grow operations. Agents believe drug cartels are coming
    to Colorado and using the front of legal marijuana to make money

    This was bound to happen sooner or later.

    • nootherdave

      Haha Colombian Cartel are coming from out of the USA to traffic the product inter-state? Wouldn’t be a problem there if it was legalised at the federal level.

  • Urban Redneck

    With the average price of legal marijuana in Denver selling for around $400 an ounce (not including taxes), I doubt the cartels are going to go away any time soon.

    • nootherdave

      People would rather buy safely and legally than buying it from a drug dealer. Most people I know here in NZ that smokes would feel the same way.

  • spollyike

    The only people that advocate legalisation of drugs are the one’s using them…putting two and two together maybe WO is planning a name change in future to Cannabis Oil??

    • nootherdave

      So in your humble opinion you believe that Cameron Slater uses drugs? That State Senators in Colorado & Washington states that voted in favour do as well? No. It makes logical sense to legalize a product that is less harmful that alcohol ( look what Prohibition for alcohol achieved in the 1920/1930’s) – would take power away from Black Market, while all the while advocating education about drugs in a similar way that it is done at schools for alcohol.

    • So using that ‘ logic ‘ Cameron must be gay and wanting to marry a man because he supported gay marriage.

  • Andrewj

    lets get a rental car from San Fran, drive to Humboldt county, stay the night enjoy the sea and next day you get an urge to head for Colorado for the snow and some mountains, good luck with that.

  • Michael

    I think that 2 months is too short of period to judge the results. Watch this space…