How would cannabis legalisation impact the UK’s crime rate?

Cannabis legalisation in the UK has been a hot topic in 2019 in light of Canada and the United States’ move to legalise the drug on a recreational level.

However, experts have claimed that cannabis legalisation would “fuel violent crime” and “turn a generation into hard drug addicts”, although evidence from other countries leagues ahead of the UK in legalisation have evidence to say otherwise.

The harsh response from experts begs the question, has violent crime risen in places where cannabis has been legalised? And has there been a rise in hard drug addicts.

In terms of the latter, there has been a significant rise in Americans who have become addicted to opiates in the past decade, culminating in the opioid crisis, although this isn’t confined to those states that have legalised cannabis.

On the subject of violent crime, many articles have surfaced using statistics from America to demonstrate how states that have welcomed legalisation have seen violent crime rates rising. However, most states in the US have experienced rising violent crime rates, increasing in line with the nationwide trend, regardless of their individual cannabis laws.

For example, in California – a state known for its liberal laws surrounding cannabis – murders in the county of Oakland have decreased, while murders in Fresno have seen an increase, if the statement about legalised cannabis being the cause of violent crime to increase, surely both counties would have experienced the same increase in violence.

Tempted

The common notion of once it’s legalised, more people will be tempted to try it is backed by almost every country that has legalised cannabis and found that this is not the case.

When cannabis is legalised it would make people more willing to be honest about their use as opposed to individuals who have no previous interest in cannabis suddenly morphing into the next Snoop Dogg.

A federal survey undertaken on the Colorado marijuana industry and its impact on the rate of adolescent marijuana use found that teen cannabis use has actually dropped in Colorado since legalisation in 2012.

When questioned, students in high school who had used cannabis within the past month had dropped 11 percent between the years of 2011 and 2017 and remained below the national average. Also asked was whether teens had ever tried cannabis at all, in which teens answering ‘yes’ had also dropped by 11 percent during the same time period.

Additionally, legalising cannabis has not negatively affected the graduation or dropout rates in Colorado. In fact the opposite is reported as since 2012, the graduation rates have increased alongside a decrease in dropout rates.

Other studies have also demonstrated that cannabis use among young people decreases in general within states where medical marijuana has been legalised, possibly due to teens seeing its use as medicinal as opposed to recreational.

Coming back to the UK, it is impossible to ignore London’s recent knife-crime epidemic that has seen a dramatic rise in the amount of murders in connection to the illicit drugs trade, much of this to do with the underground cannabis market.

Underworld

If cannabis was legalised in the UK, it could potentially take the drug trade away from the criminal underworld and in the hands of regulated and government approved sellers, thus potentially reducing crime.

Comparing back to the US, in the states of Washington and Colorado where cannabis has been legalised recreationally, FBI data has found that police no longer have to spend a majority of their time on cannabis arrests and can focus on more violent offences, with the crime clearance rates (the number of times the police solved a crime), having increased for violent and property crimes after weed legalisation.

Another study found that in California, the medical marijuana law also reduced both violent and property crime by 20%.

Taking one state’s violent crime statistics and relating it to the misleading stance of legalisation of cannabis causing violence to increase as a whole is simply scaremongering when taken out of context and not compared to other states’ with strict cannabis laws where the rise of violence is the same if not more.

This doesn’t mean that cannabis use is completely safe for everyone and it should be set loose, there are still important health issues such as the usage of high THC strains potentially enabling a more rapid onset of mental health issues such as schizophrenia and addiction in individuals prone to them.

The UK’s legal need for cannabis

There have been a shocking amount of reports revealing stories about UK citizens needs to visit the dark and dangerous black market to purchase cannabis for debilitating illnesses.

Penny Fitzlyon spends £250 per month on cannabis to treat her Multiple Sclerosis, with MS sufferers revealing it’s “inhumane” that they are forced to fund black market drug dealers and break the law in order to find relief from their pain. 

After using opioids for her agony resulting in “balance terrible, my speech slurred and my eyes popping in all directions”, Penny found that cannabis could aid her pain better than opiates with fewer side effects, revealing that using cannabis “totally transformed” her quality of life.

Similarly, Carly Barton has Fibromyalgia and suffered a stroke where she was left with continuous pain disclosing that she feels like her “bones have been replaced by hot pokers, it burns from the inside out, and pain is everywhere, my neighbour complained frequently about me, him being able to hear me screaming through the walls because the pain was that bad”, all while she was taking the strong opiate prescription fentanyl and morphine.

After growing tired of taking powerful pain prescriptions and still experiencing excruciating pain, she turned to cannabis during a muscle spasm attack and revealed the cannabis gives her relief within minutes stating “there’s no drug, anything that I’ve tried that is able to do what this does”.

After being one of the first people to have access to legal medical cannabis, her prescription was recently denied, now she has openly admitted to having to resort to illegally cultivating her own cannabis to avoid experiencing the excruciating pain again.

Violent drug market

UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has previously expressed many times that people who use cannabis medicinally need to receive the help they need, although nothing major has been put in place to make sure these people avoid fuelling the increasingly violent drug market.

Contrary to some beliefs, mounting evidence states that legalisation would reduce crime, swipe a major part of the illegal black market out of the hands of violent drug dealers and global drug cartels, free up important police resources to focus on hard violent crime that is unmistakably rising, allow individuals suffering to have access to the pain relief they need and generate a huge amount of taxable income to be re-distributed into public sectors.