Jeff Sessions, with a little help from his Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, continues to link cannabis use and violent crime. This is a widely debunked claim that stretches back to Harry Anslinger's original reefer madness in the 1930s and that continues today with people like Texas District Attorney Mark Skurka, who claimed in 2016 that "most capital murder cases can be traced to the criminal's use of marijuana."
The findings in the Task Force report might be a joke, but Sessions will use them as justification for a drug war surge. If the Attorney General gets his way, this will include longer prison sentences, increased enforcement and an attack on state-legal cannabis markets.
Senator Cory Booker told The Hill that Sessions is "one of the greatest threats to the safety of our local communities in America," adding that, "If you try to start prosecuting marijuana… you create more violence and more danger as well as greater government cost. These policies that he's doing ultimately go to the core of the safety of our communities." (Story continues after Sessions-looking-stoned image.)
Who's right? A new study titled "Not in My Backyard? Not so Fast. The Effect of Marijuana Legalization on Neighborhood Crime" contradicts the Task Force report and everything that Sessions claims. It found that the presence of cannabis dispensaries actually corresponds with a decrease in crime.
The 45-page paper, funded by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, examined "the effects of marijuana legalization on neighborhood crime using unique geospatial data from Denver, Colorado." The localized study looked at dispensary locations, crime rates, geographic demand, access to external markets and what happened in neighborhoods when dispensaries arrived, moved or closed.
What exactly did the researchers find?
"The results imply that retail dispensaries lead to reduced crime in the neighborhoods where they are located," the authors concluded. "Reductions in crime are highly localized, with no evidence of benefits for adjacent neighborhoods. The spatial extent of these effects are consistent with a policing or security response, and analysis of detailed crime categories provides indirect evidence that the reduction in crime arises from a disruption of illicit markets."
Likewise, to quote the New Tribune paper in Tacoma, Washington, "FBI crime statistics show lower rates of violent crime in Washington than before legalization.... Washington’s violent crime rate in 2015 was substantially lower than the national rate."
The findings contradict Sessions' 1930s-bred logic, but that's hardly a surprise considering his obsession with cannabis prohibition. To quote Trump ally Roger Stone from the New York Times, "The president initially bonded with Sessions because he saw him as a tough guy…, [but] there's a lack of aggressiveness with Sessions, unless it involves chasing people for smoking pot."