As more states legalize marijuana, the debate over marijuana policy turns local. Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon all allow counties and cities to adopt local marijuana bans. In Oregon the deadline for some local governments to adopt bans on marijuana businesses is December 27th, so dozens of localities have already adopted bans, are currently debating bans and/or are planning to put them up for a vote in the next election. Before make this move, though, local officials and voters should be aware of the potential unintentional negative consequences of such a decision.
For example, a research paper published earlier this year is the latest to find problems likely resulting from local bans on alcohol businesses. It found that counties which implemented local alcohol bans decades ago have much higher rates of methamphetamine related crimes. From the paper:
We find strong evidence that local alcohol prohibition in Kentucky increases the prevalence of methamphetamine labs in dry jurisdictions. Our results suggest that, if all counties in Kentucky became wet,the number of meth labs in dry and moist counties would be reduced by 37 percent, and the number statewide would fall by nearly 25 percent.
It is easy to conceive of why that would happen. By creating a market for illegal alcohol operations, bootleggers develop criminal knowledge — like good places to hide illegal activities or what cops to bribe — that they can use for other illegal operations. In addition, local alcohol bans encourage individuals to go to black market dealers to purchase alcohol, and it is much more likely that someone will also be offered meth from a black market dealer than they would be from a legal, regulated store.
There is good reason to believe local marijuana bans could have a similar negative effect. Data shows that in the Netherlands, where most marijuana consumers buy from de facto legal coffee shops, consumers rarely report having other illicit substances offered where they buy marijuana. In other European countries it is far more common for marijuana consumers to report other drugs being available where they buy their marijuana.
Local marijuana bans in Oregon might not just cost cities some extra tax revenue and prevent a few stores from opening. They could potentially have negative criminal implications for decades to come.