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

45 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2018 Last revised: 22 Jun 2018

See all articles by Rick Grucza

Rick Grucza

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Psychiatry

Mike Vuolo

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Sociology

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: June 14, 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 possession arrests were obtained from federal crime statistics; data on cannabis use were obtained from state Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) surveys, years 2007-2015. 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 a 75% reduction in the rate of drug-related arrests for youth (95% CI: 44%, 89%) with similar effects observed for adult arrests. Decriminalization was not associated with any increase in the past-30 day prevalence of cannabis use overall (relative change=-0.2%; 95% CI: -4.5%, 4.3%) or in any of the individual decriminalization states.

Conclusions: Decriminalization of cannabis in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maryland resulted in large decreases in cannabis possession arrests for both youth and adults, suggesting that the policy change had its intended consequence. 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, Richard and Vuolo, Mike 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 U.S. States (June 14, 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

Mike Vuolo

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Sociology ( email )

Columbus, OH 43210-1172
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

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)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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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