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Crime and the Depenalization of Cannabis Possession: Evidence from a Policing Experiment

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  • Adda, Jérôme

    () (Bocconi University)

  • McConnell, Brendon

    () (University of Southampton)

  • Rasul, Imran

    () (University College London)

Abstract

We evaluate the impact on crime of a localized policing experiment that depenalized the possession of small quantities of cannabis in the London borough of Lambeth. Such a policy can: (i) impact the demand for cannabis in Lambeth as users move there to purchase cannabis; (ii) enable the Lambeth police to reallocate effort towards other types of crime. We investigate whether the depenalization policy impacts the level and composition of crime, using administrative records on criminal offences by drug type, and for seven types of nondrug crime. We find that depenalization in Lambeth led to significant increases in cannabis possession offences that persisted well after the policy experiment ended. We find evidence that the policy caused the police to reallocate effort towards crimes related to the supply of Class-A drugs, as well as reallocating effort towards non-drug crime: there are significant reductions in five types of non-drug crime, and significant improvements in police effectiveness against such crimes as measured by arrest and clear-up rates. Despite the overall fall in crime attributable to the policy, we find the total welfare of local residents likely fell, as measured by house prices. These welfare losses are concentrated in Lambeth zip codes where the illicit drug market was most active. Finally, we shed light on what would be the impacts on crime of a citywide depenalization policy, by developing and calibrating a structural model of the market for cannabis and crime, accounting for the behavior of police and cannabis users. This highlights that many of the gains of the policy can be retained, and some of the deleterious consequences ameliorated, if all jurisdictions depenalized cannabis possession. These results provide new insights for the current policy debate on the regulation of illicit drug markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Adda, Jérôme & McConnell, Brendon & Rasul, Imran, 2014. "Crime and the Depenalization of Cannabis Possession: Evidence from a Policing Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 8013, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp8013
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    Cited by:

    1. Olivier Marie & Ulf Zölitz, 2017. "“High” Achievers? Cannabis Access and Academic Performance," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 84(3), pages 1210-1237.
    2. Damien de Walque, 2014. "Risking Your Health : Causes, Consequences, and Interventions to Prevent Risky Behaviors," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 16305, July.
    3. Jordi Blanes i Vidal & Tom Kirchmaier, 2015. "The Effect of Police Response Time on Crime Detection," CEP Discussion Papers dp1376, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    4. 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.
    5. repec:aea:aejpol:v:9:y:2017:i:4:p:28-63 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:aea:aejapp:v:9:y:2017:i:4:p:30-57 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Grönqvist, Hans & Niknami, Susan, 2014. "Alcohol availability and crime: Lessons from liberalized weekend sales restrictions," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 77-84.
    8. Carrieri, V.; & Madio, L.; & Principe, F.;, 2018. "Light cannabis and organized crime. Evidence from (unintended) liberalization in Italy," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 18/15, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    9. Paul Bisschop & Stephen Kastoryano & Bas van der Klaauw, 2017. "Street Prostitution Zones and Crime," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 28-63, November.
    10. Vidal, Jordi Blanes I & Kirchmaier, Tom, 2015. "The effect of police response time on crime detection," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 64979, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    11. Benjamin Hansen & Keaton Miller & Caroline Weber, 2017. "The Grass is Greener on the Other Side: How Extensive is the Interstate Trafficking of Recreational Marijuana?," NBER Working Papers 23762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. D. Mark Anderson & Benjamin Hansen & Daniel I. Rees, 2015. "Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 495-528.
    13. Manolis Galenianos & Alessandro Gavazza, 2017. "A Structural Model of the Retail Market for Illicit Drugs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(3), pages 858-896, March.
    14. Marie O. & Zölitz U.N., 2015. "‘High’ achievers? Cannabis access and academic performance," Research Memorandum 008, Maastricht University, Graduate School of Business and Economics (GSBE).
    15. Ariaster B. Chimeli & Rodrigo R. Soares, 2017. "The Use of Violence in Illegal Markets: Evidence from Mahogany Trade in the Brazilian Amazon," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(4), pages 30-57, October.
    16. Dragone, Davide & Prarolo, Giovanni & Vanin, Paolo & Zanella, Giulio, 2017. "Crime and the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana," IZA Discussion Papers 10522, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    17. DeAngelo, Gregory & Redford, Audrey, 2015. "Is Medical Marijuana a Gateway Drug?: The Effect of Medical Marijuana Legalization on Heroin Use Rates," 2016 Annual Meeting, February 6-9, 2016, San Antonio, Texas 229981, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    police behavior; cannabis; crime; depenalization;

    JEL classification:

    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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