Cannabis Decriminalization: A Study of Recent Policy Change in Five States
34 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 23, 2018
Background: A number of public health professional organizations support the decriminalization of cannabis due to adverse effects of cannabis-related arrests and legal consequences, particularly on youth. We sought to examine the associations between cannabis decriminalization and both arrests and youth cannabis use in five states that passed decriminalization measures between the years 2008 and 2014: Massachusetts (decriminalized in 2008), Connecticut (2011), Rhode Island (2013), Vermont (2013), and Maryland (2014).
Methods: Data on cannabis use were obtained from state Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) surveys, years 2007-2015; arrest data were obtained from federal crime statistics. Using a “difference in difference” regression framework, we contrasted trends in decriminalization states with those from states that did not adopt major policy changes during the observation period.
Results: Decriminalization was associated with an immediate and strong reduction in the rate of drug-related arrests for youth (OR=0.38; 95% CI: 0.37, 0.39) and adults (OR=0.40; 95% CI: 0.38, 0.42). Decriminalization was not associated with any increase in the past-30 day prevalence of cannabis use (OR=0.99; 95% CI: 0.95, 1.04). Significant declines in prevalence were observed for Rhode Island (OR=0.92; 95% CI; 0.87, 0.97) and Vermont (OR=0.91, 95% CI; 0.87, 0.95).
Conclusions: Decriminalization of cannabis in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maryland resulted in large decreases in drug-related arrests for both youth and adults, suggesting that the policy change had its intended consequences. Our analysis did not find any increase in the prevalence of youth cannabis use during the observation period.
Keywords: arrest, cannabis, decriminalization, drug, policy
JEL Classification: I18, K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation