Crime & Courts

Advocates: Legalization would lessen violence tied to marijuana

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana in North Carolina say violence connected to the drug would disappear if the state followed in the footsteps of Colorado, which permitted recreational marijuana use this year.

N.C. Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, on Thursday proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Alexander concedes passing an amendment is an uphill battle – marijuana legalization bills have died a quick death in the General Assembly in the past. Still he feels that legalizing the drug will remove the violence that accompanies the drug trade.

“When was the last time there was a shootout at a grocery store over a bottle of wine?” Alexander said. “It doesn’t happen.”

North Carolina advocates for the repeal of marijuana laws say the drug is safe, but its criminalization means buyers have to contend with people willing to break the law.

“People who are turning to marijuana, they’re forced to go to the black market and that forces them to associate with people who have leanings that are potentially violent and illegal,” said Jon Kennedy, secretary of the North Carolina branch of the National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws, which has lobbied the state to ease restrictions on the drug.

Other states have lessened penalties for possession or stopped prosecuting people who possess small amounts of marijuana. But it’s still unclear whether decriminalization would lead to a drop in violence.

On Jan. 1, Colorado became the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Nineteen other states allow marijuana to be used medically.

A study conducted by Robert Morris, a criminologist at the University of Texas, found that states that have passed medical marijuana laws have seen a decrease in robberies, homicides and assaults, when compared with states where marijuana possession is illegal.

Colorado only has three months of statistics, a small sample. But in Denver, the state’s largest city, crime has dropped 5.2 percent.

Groups that opposed legalization said it’s still too early to tell.

“We quite frankly don’t know,” Henny Lasley, a representative for anti-marijuana legalization group Smart Colorado, told the Huffington Post. “We’ve had three complete months of retail marijuana. It’s a pretty short window.”