At a news conference Monday, New York Police Department commissioner Bill Bratton blamed a slight uptick in violence in the city (45 homicides at this point last year, versus 54 this year) on marijuana.
“The seemingly innocent drug that’s been legalized around the country. In this city, people are killing each other over marijuana more so than anything that we had to deal with [in the] 80s and 90s with heroin and cocaine . . . In some instances, it’s a causal factor. But it’s an influence in almost everything that we do here.”
Hyperbole at its finest. Even if this year’s uptick holds through December (and it’s worth noting that we’re only dealing with eight weeks of data, here), New York would end the year with 383 murders. The city saw 2,245 murders in 1990.
I’m not exactly sure by what Rube Goldbergian chain of events Bratton thinks legalization in Colorado and Washington is causing homicides in New York City, but it’s clear that he thinks there’s a connection. Another NYPD official said the problem appears to be “ripoffs” — not turf battles, but attempted robberies gone wrong.
Of course, if we want a more direct examination of what effect legal pot might have on homicide, we can just look at the cities where it’s legal. Here’s what we know:
Homicides dropped 24 percent in Denver last year, the first full year of legalization in Colorado. Robberies were down 3 percent. Burglary was down 9.5 percent. The only crimes that increased significantly were larceny (a property crime, not a violent crime) and arson, which seems unlikely to be related to marijuana. Overall, violent crime dropped 0.7 percent, and property crime dropped 2 percent.
Homicides did increase slightly in Seattle (from 23 to 26), the largest city in the other state to legalize the drug. But it’s more difficult to draw conclusions there because the Washington law was quite a bit stricter than the Colorado law, and still left room for a thriving black market.
Of course, we only have a year’s worth of data from Colorado. But then, Bratton is drawing broad conclusions based on just eight weeks.
I won’t argue that legalized marijuana is responsible for the 24 percent drop in homicides in Denver last year. There’s not nearly enough data to jump to a conclusion like that. But it’s still a hell of a lot more defensible than arguing that it’s responsible for an increase in homicides in New York.