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
Date Written: July 14, 2008
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: Suggested Citation