California pot decriminalization correlated to lowest youth crime rate in recorded history

California Youth Crime Plunges to All-Time Low, a paper from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, analyzes recent data from the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center, and concludes that decriminalizing marijuana was correlated with an unheard-of 20% drop in the youth crime rate. The California youth crime rate is now the lowest it's been in recorded state history.

A large proportion of the drop in youth crime is directly attributable to a drop in arrests for possession of small amount of marijuana, but the rest seems to be a dividend from keeping kids out of the criminal justice system. That is, if you stop jailing kids for holding a little weed, they won't go to juvie and become career criminals.

California is still jailing some kids for holding, though, thanks to the provision in law that makes possessing marijuana in or near a school into a special offense.

Males said he suspects that many of the 5,831 marijuana arrests of juveniles in California last year may have occurred on school grounds. He doesn’t have data yet to check his theory, however.

In his police briefing, Males also notes that juvenile arrests in California were the lowest ever recorded since statewide statistics were first compiled in 1954. The decline, Males said, wasn’t due just to fewer marijuana arrests.

Drug-related juvenile arrests overall fell by 47 percent between 2010 and 2011. Violent crime arrests fell by 16 percent; homicide arrests by 26 percent; rape arrests by 10 percent; and property-crime arrests by 16 percent. Nationwide, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, arrests of juveniles for all offenses decreased 11.1 percent in 2011 when compared with the 2010 number; arrests of adults declined 3.6 percent.

Marijuana Decriminalization Drops Youth Crime Rates by Stunning 20% in One Year [Alternet] (via Reddit)


  1. This is a little bit of the statistics tail wagging the reality dog, right?

    The kids are obviously now so stoned they can’t even move to commit crimes.  Incarcerate them all now, before they come to and go juanacrazee.

    1.  Apple released the first iPod in November 2001 – and there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on US soil since.  I think the conclusion is obvious!

  2. This all sounds great, and I’m in favor of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana (especially as I hope it will get us out of our current situation, which hopelessly muddles people genuinely benefiting from medical marijuana with people willing to lie and to pay off corrupt doctors in order to get recreational marijuana that should be legal but isn’t, casting inescapable and unkind suspicions of dishonesty and criminality on the former class of users).

    Still, the chart in your post seems to be a problem. I had to read the post and the chart a couple of times before I decided they must have almost nothing to do with each other; the chart appears to show CA merely reverting to the national baseline, in a way that can’t be accounted for by marijuana decriminalization in CA – but the text in the post makes much stronger claims. I assume it’s something about the specificity in the chart, in particular its focus on violent and serious crimes.

    1. Yeah, the chart seems to show California pretty far out of whack with the rest of the country, then a big plunge in 70’s that stabilizes in line with the rest of the country in the 90’s, and the article doesn’t mention any of that. 

      1.  Yeah… I looked at that chart and thought “either they’re showing the wrong chart in the wrong context, or the chart doesn’t show what they think it shows.”

  3. I seem to recall, in CA, when I was younger…

    …the slight matter of local kids committing victim-ful crimes to get money to pay the fines levied by prude judges over victimless crimes.

    That might have something to do with the trend, there.

  4. For those stats geeks out there, a research project.

    1. Analyze data nationwide for the period after prohibition and derive R^2 values.

    2. Analyze data from California and derive R^2 values, see if data from 1 predicts 2.

    3. Analyze data from Colorado and Washington, repeat as with 2.

    You now have a regression equation to predict (assuming significance is found) the impact of legalization in other states on other crime rates. Alternately, you have no relationship, aside from the ~50% drop in drug arrests.

    Perhaps the CJ&CJ is doing this?

  5. You stop arresting people and the recorded crime rate goes down. Why isn’t that a ‘well, duh’, exactly? I know I’m missing something here. I get that the recorded crime rate shown is for violent/property crime, not weedicrime, but I’ve always been led to believe that violence and weed don’t correlate. So subtracting the mellows should surely have had no effect?

    1. It’s more than just drug arrests going down, all other crimes followed as well. From the article:

      “Drug-related juvenile arrests overall fell by 47 percent between 2010 and 2011. Violent crime arrests fell by 16 percent; homicide arrests by 26 percent; rape arrests by 10 percent; and property-crime arrests by 16 percent.”

      1. Yeah, but in the years you cite, the CA and total US stats are indistinguishable. Which supports my contention that the policy makes no difference to the ‘nasty’ crime rate. Ruffians and burglars are – apparently – diminishing in number nationwide (or your police are catching fewer), regardless of CA’s policy on weed. Which is not of course a reason to keep marijuana criminalised.

      1. Exactly – this is not about kids and the reefer. This is about people being put into a system that tends to produce more criminals than it reforms.

      1. Three years ago I was vacationing in New York through October, and staying in a guest apartment in Harlem, with the two older female owners in the apartments on the two floors below.  I was walking one afternoon up W. 121st toward Malcolm X to catch the bus.  To my left was a small elementary school playground with a chainlink fence and sitting outside was large adult male in a Cadillac with the windows rolled down smoking weed. 

        While I strongly favor decriminalization of pot in the U.S. for so many reasons, including the results above, I had to have a long conversation with myself before deciding not to call the cops.  When I told my hostesses later what I’d seen up the block, they were upset, partly about the behavior but mostly because of their heavy financial investment in the neighborhood.  The neighborhood, the hostesses, the man sitting in the car smoking dope, and the kids playing in the little playground, all black.  Me? — fishbelly white, middle-aged woman from Colorado, a stranger in a strangeland and a guest on vacation in NewYork and Harlem for the first time.

        I don’t want anyone sitting outside a playground smoking dope for any reason, with children playing and watching fifteen feet away.  The man in the car wasn’t looking at the kids; he was probably just there mellowing out after a long day.  But I could see why a cop might be inclined to suspect him of ‘intent to sell’.  Kids everywhere today seem to have access to a whole lot more folding money than I ever did at the same age, and there was a high school just up the block.

        It was a moral dilemma — what was the right thing to do?  No one else seemed surprised or upset (except the two hostesses)  So, I did nothing.

        1. Replace “smoking dope” in your statement with “drinking beer”.  See how that adjusts the perspective.  Sure, we shouldn’t have people doing either in front of kids or on the street in most areas but if both are legal will it be that common?  I mean, when I lived in NYC I’d occasionally drink a beer on the river or while walking home from the subway at night or hanging out on my stoop and (while that’s illegal) it didn’t seem to present that much of a problem and it’s not like I was buying them for twelve year olds.  And most of the time I drank my beers at home or in a bar – if dope was legal would he still be smoking it in his car?  I don’t know, maybe.  Would he have other options?  Definitely.  Would you have the same concerns about it?  Possibly not, once societies’ norms had adjusted.

          1. Exactly. It’s the criminalization of a relatively harmless drug that’s the problem, not the fact that people use that drug. 

            As for welcomeaboard’s story, I can’t for the life of me figure out why it matters that the setting is an urban, apparently black one.

          2. My first response to sniffing weed billowing out of a car next to a playground fence was ‘He’s gotta be kidding! Did he notice the playground when he parked? Does he see the three little boys on the other side of fence watching him?’ As I walked by the taller boy said to me with a big grin on his face, ‘Hey lady! — wanna sell me some weed?!’ Then he laughed and walked away; he thought that was pretty funny. I turned to look at the guy sitting in the car; no response like he hadn’t heard.

            Would this same scenerio have happened anywhere I’ve ever lived? Guy sitting outside a playground enjoying a doobie in full view of everyone? Not for long, someone would have called the cops and they would have showed up pronto. I was a lot less sure of same respone in Harlem.

            Is the drug war a war on black people? Is it outright racism? Well, there are certainly a lot more people of color in the jails and prisons, also a fair number of poor, white folks. I tend to think of the drug war as a battlefront for a larger class war. In communities were it has become ‘normal’ to see a man sitting in front of a playground smoking dope, I see lot of easy arrests plumping up police stats that seem to operating on a quota system. I see for-profit prisons with enviable profit margins and they need bodies; they’re not too fussy about why, just that the charges stick. The new old ‘slavery by another name’.

          3. Is the drug war a war on black people?  Is it outright racism?

            Of course it is. And of course that affects poor white people as well.

            Have you read Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow”? It’s inspiring a whole new awakening to how much the so-called War on Drugs specifically targets POC, and to some extent brown folks too, and to how the criminal justice system in general has played a huge part in eviscerating urban areas (thereby encouraging drug sales, and usage).

            One recent example among many, many others:

            “DEA Agent Says He Was Told Not To Enforce Drug Laws In White Areas” —


          4. Is the drug war a war on black people?

            In a word, yes.

            I’d bet a lot more white people than black get off with a wrist slap for marijuana as well.

          5. I’m not sure what perspective adjustment your hypothetical was supposed to elicit: I’m extremely comfortable with someone being arrested for drinking beer while sat behind the wheel of a car parked outside an elementary school.

          6. Exactly that perspective adjustment.  It’s not about whether or not it’s weeeeeeeed, it’s about context.  If I saw people sitting on a kid’s playground drinking wine I’d have a problem with it but move it to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park and add a blanket and you’re on a lovely early summer date.

          7. @Antinous, I didn’t say it was a crime, merely that I’d be OK with what was described being an arrestable offence.

            In your jurisdiction I believe it’s actually just an infraction subject to a fine, although if the keys were also in the ignition it could add up to a DUI.

          8. Yeah, I wouldn’t have picked beer for the hypothetical, but tobacco. welcomeabored speaks as if weed is some terrible thing that shouldn’t be withing sight of children.Would this same sense of abject horror and the desire to call the cops have happened if it were tobacco?What if tobacco happened to have been criminalised in that state?I’m betting not. In which case, it’s not a rational reaction. It’s an irrational “OMG it’s a DOOBIE, think of the CHILDREN!” reaction.

        2. Here is the problem.  The weed, as compared to alcohol, is harmless.  If he had been sitting there drinking a PBR, you probably would not have even registered it.  People drink in public around children all the freak time.  Walk down a sidewalk with restaurant tables and behold countless adults doing drugs (alcohol) in front of children.  Rightfully, no one gives a shit.

          What makes a dude in NYC smoking weed around children sketchy is the fact that it is illegal, not the fact that it is weed.  You know that guy bought the weed illegally, and you are only slightly irrational for worrying about mal intent.  If he was eating pixie sticks and pixie sticks were as illegal as weed, it would be the same.  

          The simple solution is to make weed legal.  If the weed is legal, the guy is about as sketchy as a dude eating some McDonalds food, and the McDonalds food is absolutely and unquestionably worse for you.  McDonalds will most certainly kill you very dead if you use it too often.

          I remember in high school it was always easier to get drugs (weed in particular) than it was to get booze.  You could filch a little booze from your parents here and there, but take too much and they catch on.  It was nearly impossible to buy though.  Most responsible adults would tell  you to screw off if you handed them a $20 and ask them to buy you some vodka.  Drugs on the other hand were easy.  Why?  Someone selling drugs didn’t give a shit what my age was.  You could go to a dealer and they will get you whatever your want if you had the cash.  There was no “booze dealer”, but there sure as hell were drug dealers.

          Booze is a vastly more lethal and mind altering drug than weed.  Before making an argument over weed, consider booze.  Can we tolerate X when it is the vastly more lethal and mind altering drug alcohol?  Yes?  Okay, than stop freaking out.  The only thing that ever makes weed worse than booze is the fact that weed is illegal.  Make it legal and it suddenly becomes safer and less harmful than alcohol.

  6. Yeah, the fact that the graph of the overall US crimes goes down in the exact same way means that it’s hard to say anything about how this correlates with CA’s weed laws.

    Indeed, the article itself seems to cite the drop in drug-related arrests to the new law (duh) and the drop in other crimes more to the improvement of the socioeconomic status of poor communities.

  7. It is possible that juvie does not make them into criminals. They will still become criminals just only when they become adults. In ten years from now we should check if the number of criminals without juvie records rises. Also, we should see if the regular cime rate for non-drug crime changes.

    I’m all for decriminalization, I just think we should wait before throwing the party.

  8. I’ll give you causation…

    Surely it’s obvious that the passage of Prop 13 in the late 70’s is the real reason for the California teen crime rate beginning to fall down to the national level.

    Those would-be delinquents saw the bright future of lower property tax rates ahead of them and resolved to shape up!

  9. Does this mean the youth crime rate is now lower than it was before pot was criminalized in the first place, or do the stats go back that far?

    1. Good point. God only knows how many car-jackings these children are committing in Vice City?  How many point blank range, hollow point, armor piercing, gang style executions are the kids preforming in Liberty City?  The FBI/UCR is just not painting a clear picture of what is REALLY going down…

  10. It kind of pains me to point this out, the the downward trend started a few years before the legalization of medical marijuana. Prop 215 passed in 1996, and the downward trend started around 1993. I grabbed some more data from, and pretty much all forms of crime start dropping then.

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