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Has the state's new marijuana policy contributed to Boston's spike in violence?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 15, 2011 05:30 PM

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Massachusetts voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in a 2008 referendum, and there was much rejoicing. But in an article by the Globe's Maria Cramer this week, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis contended that decriminalization may have contributed to a surge of violent crime in the city as drug dealers fight among themselves to serve growing demand:

Davis attributes the rise in homicides mostly to an expanding drug market that, he says, has been fed by the decriminalization of marijuana and the release of convicts with drug records who cannot find work in a poor economy and have turned once again to dealing.


The decriminalization of marijuana, Davis said, has increased demand for that drug, because more people are now less afraid to buy it.

"I'm not ready to say that this [homicide spike] is driven by marijuana," Davis said. "There are many drugs that are involved. But it's more about money than the type of drug that's being utilized, and marijuana is a substance that has a high profit margin."

Many readers were skeptical of the link — or argued that even if an expanding market for marijuana really was fueling Boston's violence, that only strengthened the case for full legalization, which would bring cultivation and distribution of the drug out of the shadows.

But commenter mmaryy argued that for now, as long as marijuana trafficking remained illegal, buyers were complicit in the violence:

...when you buy from a guy who shoots, maims, kills to get some weed into your hands, you are responsible, too, whether or not you can be charged with a crime for possessing an ounce.

The 2008 referendum only covered marijuana, but what if the state took the policy a step further, and legalized all drugs? An article by Keith O'Brien in tomorrow's Globe Ideas section reports on the mixed verdict from Portugal, which overhauled its drug laws in 2000 to allow possession of all drugs. Heroin and cocaine use have both gone up, O'Brien writes, and, at least by one measure, so have drug-related deaths.

But more addicts have sought treatment, overall drug use among young people is down, and other nations are pondering the lessons of Portugal's experiment:

Those pushing for drug policy reform argue that Portugal's changes prove that decriminalizing drugs won't lead to a national calamity, but to a society where the criminal justice system can focus on real criminals and drug addicts can get counseling, not a prison cell.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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