Do Citizens Know Whether Their State Has Decriminalized Marijuana? A Test of the Perceptual Assumption in Deterrence Theory

23 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2008 Last revised: 17 Jul 2008

See all articles by Robert MacCoun

Robert MacCoun

Stanford Law School

Rosalie Liccardo Pacula

Health Economics, Finance and Organization, RAND Corporation; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jamie F. Chriqui

The MayaTech Corporation

Katherine Mullan Harris

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill

Peter H. Reuter

University of Maryland

Date Written: July 14, 2008

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Drugs, Marijuana, Deterrence, Compliance

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

MacCoun, Robert and Pacula, Rosalie Liccardo and Chriqui, Jamie F. and Harris, Katherine Mullan and Reuter, Peter H., Do Citizens Know Whether Their State Has Decriminalized Marijuana? A Test of the Perceptual Assumption in Deterrence Theory (July 14, 2008). 3rd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Papers. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1120930 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1120930

Robert MacCoun (Contact Author)

Stanford Law School ( email )

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Rosalie Liccardo Pacula

Health Economics, Finance and Organization, RAND Corporation ( email )

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Santa Monica, CA 90407-2138
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310-393-0411 (Phone)
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Jamie F. Chriqui

The MayaTech Corporation ( email )

1100 Wayne Avenue, Suite 900
Silver Spring, MD 20910
United States

Katherine Mullan Harris

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill ( email )

102 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC NC 27514
United States

Peter H. Reuter

University of Maryland ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

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