Why Legalization Won’t Work

Legalization, decriminalization and medical marijuana laws all increase crime, not decrease it as its supporters claim. Here’s why:

Nearly all addictive drugs, including alcohol, cause crime and violence, and almost all the crime in this country is drug- and alcohol-related. About half of this crime is simply from  people who are drunk or high and as a result, do stupid, violent things. They call this pharmacological effect.  Child abuse and domestic violence almost always fall into this category. Most murders do, too.

Most people in jail or prison are there for something they did while under the influence, and alcohol is the biggest offender. Research in the 1950s, before drug use was widespread, found most crimes committed under the influence of alcohol.

I often ask my addicted patients if they’ve ever been arrested for anything they did clean and sober, and the answer is almost always no. That’s half of all crime, and it covers every type of crime, from shoplifting to murder.

Another significant percent of crime comes from heavy and addicted users who are often unable to hold jobs, so they steal to live. They don’t steal just to pay for their drugs and alcohol, but for food and housing.

Most people picture heroin addicts stealing to support a habit, but alcoholics also have very high rates of property crimes like forgery and burglary. It’s not that alcohol is expensive; it’s that they’re too drunk or hungover to hold a job.

Pharmacologic effect and stealing to live account for about 80 percent of all crime, and this 80 percent happens whether the drug is legal or illegal.

Only a small percent of crime comes from gangs, turf battles and illegal sales, but that gets most of the news coverage. If we legalize drugs, this small percent will vanish. But far more people use a legal drug. Look at alcohol. A Rand Corporation study estimates that if California were to legalize pot, use would definitely increase, and possibly double.

So maybe 20 percent of  crime goes away, but the other 80 percent goes up. If it doubles, that’s a net increase of 60 percent. That’s why legalization will increase crime. It won’t increase cartel violence, which always makes the news. It will increase child abuse, burglary, manslaughter–crimes that few people realize are almost always caused by substance abuse.

Research shows that heavy and addicted pot-smokers are several times more likely than non-users to commit violent crime. Some people just can’t believe pot’s addictive and causes violence because they tried it and nothing happened. But addicted pot-smokers are as different from occasional users as gutter drunks are from people who have an occasional glass of wine with dinner. People tend to think some drugs are good and others bad, or they distinguish between legal and illegal ones. But to understand the problems that drugs, including alcohol, cause, the best way is to look at the user. Is this a heavy or addicted user, or a very occasional user?

Just because you or your friends share an occasional joint or have an occasional mixed drink at a party, don’t imagine that has anything to do with the life of the heavy or addicted user. Addiction is an entirely different world, even with pot.


People who are addicted to or heavily abuse any substance, including marijuana, commit almost all the crime in America.


A study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases  in 2001, found a link between heavy marijuana use and serious crime, including attempted homicide, weapons offenses and reckless endangerment. Another study showed that adolescents who use marijuana at least once a week were four times as likely to engage in violence as non-users. The same study also showed that assaults, stealing and destroying property increased in proportion to the number of days per month someone smokes pot.

This is exactly what we see with alcohol and other addictive drugs. Heavy and addicted users cause most of the crime while occasional users are rarely a problem. The guy who shares a joint with friends every few months or has an occasional beer at a picnic doesn’t beat his wife or break into a store to rob the cash register. That small percentage of heavy and addicted users commits almost all the crimes. But the percentage of users who get addicted is remarkably consistent.

Marijuana has a low rate of addiction. Researchers have found that, among people who smoke pot at least once a week, between 6-11 percent get addicted. This is similar to the statistics for alcohol. But it’s these addicts and heavy users who cause all the problems. Whether a lot of people smoke pot or very few, that 6 percent seems to stay consistent. So if marijuana use doubles because of legalization, then the number of addicted users will also double, as will the number of crimes. When it comes to addiction and crime, marijuana works like any other addictive drug.

The argument that marijuana is safer than alcohol is irrelevant because making marijuana more available doesn’t mean addicts will quit alcohol or heroin to smoke pot. It means they will use pot in addition to what they already use.

The largest spike in crime in the U.S. was in the late 1960s and early 70s, when drug use became commonplace. Alcohol already caused most of the nation’s crime. When drugs were added to the mix, people didn’t switch from alcohol to drugs. They added drugs to their alcohol. And drugs brought in a lot of new users.

Before 1960, the country tolerated a serious rate of crime, child abuse and domestic violence caused by alcoholism. Crime and child abuse became much more of a problem with the addition of illegal drugs in the late 60s. Somehow we cope with it. I do not think the United States could tolerate the amount of crime, child abuse and domestic violence we’d have if we legalized drugs and their use increased even more.

To join or learn about the group opposing Proposition 203, go to KeepAZDrugFree.com

This week I’ve heard both Democratic and Republican candidates say that even if you’re in favor of medical marijuana, Proposition 203 is a really bad law.

Briefly, here’s why, and the links document every fact:

Prop 203 is written to protect pot-smokers, not the rest of us. It allows marijuana users to drive under the influence and they can’t be charged with DUI. They can go to work stoned and can’t be fired or told to go home, even if they operate dangerous equipment. If they are addicts who abuse their children when they’re high, CPS can’t tell them not to smoke pot when seeing their children.  In other words, Prop 203 strips away basic protections for children, employers, co-workers, and the rest of us on the road.

The whole premise of Prop 203 is fraudulent. The Marijuana Policy Project says it’s only for people with serious illness, but in other states only 2-3 percent of the medical marijuana patients have cancer, AIDS or glaucoma. The rest have mild problems or none at all, and most are under age 40. Prop 203 is a scam that lets anyone smoke pot. They’re just using people with cancer to play on our sympathies. (Marijuana Sourcebook, page 20Other states that have passed these laws regret it.

Besides, the American Cancer Society, American Glaucoma Society and National Multiple Sclerosis Society are all against medical marijuana. They say it has too many negative effects and there are other medicines that are safer and work just as well. These organizations represent the very diseases marijuana supposedly treats, and they’re against it. How much more evidence do we need that this is a fraud? The push for medical marijuana isn’t coming from doctors or the seriously ill; it’s coming from young pot-smokers.

And these laws really are harmful.

States with medical marijuana laws have the highest rates of teenage marijuana use, and teenage pot-smokers do worse in school and are more likely to drop out.

States with medical marijuana laws also have far more traffic fatalities caused by marijuana, which is just as deadly behind the wheel as alcohol. In California, cannabis-caused car crashes that killed at least one person doubled after they passed their medical marijuana law. Prop 203 really is a bad law.

You can learn more at http://www.stop203.com or http://www.keepazdrugfree.com.

Thank you.

Ed Gogek, MD

Steering Committee Member, Keep AZ Drug Free