IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Do Citizens Know Whether Their State Has Decriminalized Marijuana? Assessing the Perceptual Component of Deterrence Theory


  • MacCoun Robert

    (University of California at Berkeley)

  • Pacula Rosalie Liccardo

    (RAND Corporation and NBER)

  • Chriqui Jamie

    (University of Illinois at Chicago)

  • Harris Katherine

    (RAND Corporation)

  • Reuter Peter

    (University of Maryland - College Park and RAND)


Deterrence theory proposes that legal compliance is influenced by the anticipated risk of legal sanctions. This implies that changes in law will produce corresponding changes in behavior, but the marijuana decriminalization literature finds only fragmentary support for this prediction. But few studies have directly assessed the accuracy of citizens perceptions of legal sanctions. The heterogeneity in state statutory penalties for marijuana possession across the United States provides an opportunity to examine this issue. Using national survey data, we find that the percentages who believe they could be jailed for marijuana possession are quite similar in both states that have removed those penalties and those that have not. Our results help to clarify why statistical studies have found inconsistent support for an effect of decriminalization on marijuana possession.

Suggested Citation

  • MacCoun Robert & Pacula Rosalie Liccardo & Chriqui Jamie & Harris Katherine & Reuter Peter, 2009. "Do Citizens Know Whether Their State Has Decriminalized Marijuana? Assessing the Perceptual Component of Deterrence Theory," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 347-371, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:bpj:rlecon:v:5:y:2009:i:1:n:15

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: For access to full text, subscription to the journal or payment for the individual article is required.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kessler, Daniel P & Levitt, Steven D, 1999. "Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 343-363, April.
    2. Cameron, Lisa & Williams, Jenny, 2001. "Cannabis, Alcohol and Cigarettes: Substitutes or Complements?," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 77(236), pages 19-34, March.
    3. David A. Anderson, 2002. "The Deterrence Hypothesis and Picking Pockets at the Pickpocket's Hanging," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 4(2), pages 295-313.
    4. J. Williams & Rosalie Liccardo Pacula & Frank J. Chaloupka & Henry Wechsler, 2004. "Alcohol and marijuana use among college students: economic complements or substitutes?," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 13(9), pages 825-843.
    5. James G. March & Zur Shapira, 1987. "Managerial Perspectives on Risk and Risk Taking," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 33(11), pages 1404-1418, November.
    6. Pacula, Rosalie Liccardo, 1998. "Does increasing the beer tax reduce marijuana consumption?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(5), pages 557-585, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Anderson, D. Mark & Rees, Daniel I., 2012. "Per Se Drugged Driving Laws and Traffic Fatalities," IZA Discussion Papers 7048, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Huber III Arthur & Newman Rebecca & LaFave Daniel, 2016. "Cannabis Control and Crime: Medicinal Use, Depenalization and the War on Drugs," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 16(4), pages 1-35, October.
    3. Chu, Yu-Wei Luke, 2014. "The effects of medical marijuana laws on illegal marijuana use," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 43-61.
    4. Kantorowicz-Reznichenko Elena, 2015. "Day-Fines: Should the Rich Pay More?," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 11(3), pages 481-501, November.
    5. Pacula Rosalie Liccardo & Kilmer Beau & Grossman Michael & Chaloupka Frank J, 2010. "Risks and Prices: The Role of User Sanctions in Marijuana Markets," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 10(1), pages 1-38, February.
    6. John J. Donohue III & Benjamin Ewing & David Pelopquin, 2010. "Rethinking America's Illegal Drug Policy," NBER Chapters,in: Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs, pages 215-281 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Aaron Chalfin & Justin McCrary, 2017. "Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Literature," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 55(1), pages 5-48, March.
    8. Angela K. Dills & Sietse Goffard & Jeffrey Miron, 2017. "The Effects of Marijuana Liberalizations: Evidence from Monitoring the Future," NBER Working Papers 23779, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bpj:rlecon:v:5:y:2009:i:1:n:15. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Peter Golla). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.