Pubdate: Tue, 08 Apr 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Column: The Watch
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Radley Balko
Note: Excerpted from Radley Balko's blog on civil liberties and the 
criminal justice system


After three months with legal marijuana, Denver has not turned into 
an urban wasteland. In fact, as Vox reported this week, crime in the 
first two months of 2014 is down across the board from the first two 
months of 2013.

Yes, it's still early. But the numbers so far don't suggest that 
Denver is about to succumb to a crime wave fueled by pot-addicted 
hooligans (as some law enforcement officials warned).

This makes an Associated Press report from Friday all the more 
bizarre. Here's the scary lead:

"A 25-year-old is shot dead trying to sell marijuana the 
old-fashioned, illegal way. Two men from Texas set up a warehouse to 
grow more than they would ever need. And three people buying pot in a 
grocery store parking lot are robbed at gunpoint.

"While no one expected the state's first-in-the-nation recreational 
sales would eliminate the need for dangerous underground sales 
overnight, the violence has raised concerns among police, prosecutors 
and pot advocates that a black market for marijuana is alive and well 
in Colorado."

The article continues with scary stories from Denver and its suburbs. 
But wait, crime is down in Denver, isn't it? It is, which is why the 
AP has only anecdotes.

One paragraph is the closest the article comes to attempting to find 
actual figures: "It's difficult to measure whether there has been an 
increase in pot-related crimes beyond anecdotal reports because no 
one at either the federal or state levels is keeping track of the 
numbers of killings, robberies and other crimes linked directly to marijuana."

So violent and property crimes are down in Denver. And we have no way 
of knowing how many of the crimes that have been committed relate to 
legalized marijuana. Yet the AP goes ahead and quotes law enforcement 
officials who say that the entire region is erupting into chaos - the 
same people who predicted as much before legalization took effect and 
so, of course, have an interest in seeing it come to pass.

There are some 3 million people in the Denver metropolitan area. 
There will be some crime, whether pot is legal or not. And there will 
be crimes that, in some way, involve pot whether pot is legal or not 
- - just as there are crimes related to alcohol, money, sex and charity 
hockey games. It's also certainly possible that the high tax on pot 
in Colorado has enabled black markets to continue to exist. And I 
suppose it's also at least possible that pot is fueling crime - that, 
were it not for legalization, both violent and property crimes would 
have fallen even more.

But that's all pure speculation. There is no evidence that any of 
those things are happening. All we have are some anecdotes from law 
enforcement. So perhaps journalists should hold off on the panicky 
stories about pot-fueled crime waves - especially since the early 
data show that crime has actually dropped.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom