Pot Legalization and Crime Rates in Denver, Colorado

Sierra Rayne
Over at Ezra Klein's new site, Vox.com, German Lopez has an article claiming to show that Colorado's recent marijuana legalization experiment hasn't increased crime rates in Denver. In contrast, when we actually look at the raw data Lopez uses, the message isn't so clear. In fact, using Lopez's own methods, we might conclude pot legalization has dramatically increased crime in Denver.

Lopez claims that “three months into its legalization experiment, Denver isn't seeing a widespread rise in crime.” To reach this conclusion, Lopez uses Denver's crime data (available here) for the months of January and February in 2013 and 2014. When I look at the data, I see some potentially different findings.

Over the first two months of 2014, “simple assaults” in Denver are up an astonishing 70% over the same timeframe in 2013. The crime of “intimidation” is up 86%, and all “crimes against persons” have increased 32% compared to 2013. But the real changes are evident in the “all other offenses” category. Here we see that “disorderly conduct/disturbing the peace” has increased 1,144% (from only 18 offenses in 2013 to 224 in 2014), “family offences/nonviolent” are up 97%, “liquor law/drunkeness” is up 1,150%, “violation of a restraining/court order” increased 87%, “criminal trespassing” is up 339%, and the “all other offenses” subcategory have increased 400%.

Of course there is also data available back to 2009 that illustrates the anomalously high incidence level for these offenses during the first two months of 2014 following marijuana legalization, as shown in the table below.

The number of offenses in each of these categories during January and February of 2014 are, by far, the highest over Denver's available historical record, in some cases by more than an order of magnitude.

Time will indeed tell what impact pot legalization has on crime rates in Colorado, but the early results do not appear promising for legalization proponents.

Over at Ezra Klein's new site, Vox.com, German Lopez has an article claiming to show that Colorado's recent marijuana legalization experiment hasn't increased crime rates in Denver. In contrast, when we actually look at the raw data Lopez uses, the message isn't so clear. In fact, using Lopez's own methods, we might conclude pot legalization has dramatically increased crime in Denver.

Lopez claims that “three months into its legalization experiment, Denver isn't seeing a widespread rise in crime.” To reach this conclusion, Lopez uses Denver's crime data (available here) for the months of January and February in 2013 and 2014. When I look at the data, I see some potentially different findings.

Over the first two months of 2014, “simple assaults” in Denver are up an astonishing 70% over the same timeframe in 2013. The crime of “intimidation” is up 86%, and all “crimes against persons” have increased 32% compared to 2013. But the real changes are evident in the “all other offenses” category. Here we see that “disorderly conduct/disturbing the peace” has increased 1,144% (from only 18 offenses in 2013 to 224 in 2014), “family offences/nonviolent” are up 97%, “liquor law/drunkeness” is up 1,150%, “violation of a restraining/court order” increased 87%, “criminal trespassing” is up 339%, and the “all other offenses” subcategory have increased 400%.

Of course there is also data available back to 2009 that illustrates the anomalously high incidence level for these offenses during the first two months of 2014 following marijuana legalization, as shown in the table below.

The number of offenses in each of these categories during January and February of 2014 are, by far, the highest over Denver's available historical record, in some cases by more than an order of magnitude.

Time will indeed tell what impact pot legalization has on crime rates in Colorado, but the early results do not appear promising for legalization proponents.