Cannabis Decriminalization: A Study of Recent Policy Change in Five States

34 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2018  

Rick Grucza

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry

Melissa Krauss

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry

Andrew Plunk

Eastern Virginia Medical School - Department of Pediatrics

Arpana Agrawal

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry

Frank J. Chaloupka

University of Illinois at Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Laura Bierut

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry

Date Written: February 23, 2018

Abstract

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

Grucza, Rick and Krauss, Melissa and Plunk, Andrew and Agrawal, Arpana and Chaloupka, Frank J. and Bierut, Laura, Cannabis Decriminalization: A Study of Recent Policy Change in Five States (February 23, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3129032 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3129032

Richard Grucza (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

660 S. Euclid Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
United States

Melissa Krauss

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

660 S. Euclid Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
United States

Andrew Plunk

Eastern Virginia Medical School - Department of Pediatrics ( email )

825 Fairfax Ave
Norfolk, VA 23507
United States

Arpana Agrawal

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

660 S. Euclid Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
United States

Frank J. Chaloupka

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of Illinois at Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

m/c 144 601 South Morgan St., Room 2103
Chicago, IL 60607-7121
United States
312-413-2367 (Phone)
312-996-3344 (Fax)

Laura Bierut

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

660 S. Euclid Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63110
United States

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