Rethinking the Consequences of Decriminalizing Marijuana

James Austin, Ph.D.

The debate on whether to decriminalize marijuana remains a hotly debated topic. Unfortunately the debate is rarely informed by data that can be used to help parents, voters and politicians make an informed decision on whether decriminalization will provide substantial savings and not lead to more use and more crime. With respect to the dual questions of decriminalization's impact on use and crime, there seems to be broad consensus based on scientific data that it will have little, if any, impact. Marijuana already is a widely used substance with over 26 million annual users. And despite increases in marijuana use since the early 1990s, the crime rate has plummeted over the same time frame. If there was a marijuana-crime link, it is not having its expected impact on crime.