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Students explore impact of marijuana legalization

Members of the Denver Police Department, the media and community groups gathered last week to hear the students present their findings.

June 30, 2015

MSU Denver students in criminal justice and criminology, and psychology conducted research on the effects of retail marijuana legalization in Colorado as part of their fall 2014 and spring 2015 research projects. PHOTO: Sara Hertwig
MSU Denver students in criminal justice and criminology, and psychology conducted research on the effects of retail marijuana legalization in Colorado as part of their fall 2014 and spring 2015 research projects. PHOTO: Sara Hertwig

Some of the most valuable learning opportunities come when students apply what they learn in the classroom to current issues in the “real world.” A group of MSU Denver students in criminal justice and criminology, and psychology took advantage of such an opportunity when they conducted research on the effects of retail marijuana legalization in Colorado as part of their fall 2014 and spring 2015 research projects.

Members of the Denver Police Department, the media, the Salvation Army and other community groups gathered last week in — ironically — room 420 of the Student Success Building to hear the students present their findings from three studies: one that explored whether perceptions of livability in Denver have changed since marijuana was legalized; an analysis of Denver police crime statistics since the legalization of marijuana; and a survey of Denver homeless shelter employees, volunteers and clients to determine the impact legalized marijuana has had on the shelter population.

“This research is significant because we’re paving the way for Colorado, and also researching and determining the positive and negative effects of recreational marijuana in communities in other states looking to legalize,” said Kristina Tinajero, a criminal justice major who will graduate in fall 2015. “For MSU to be one of the first conducting research of this kind is groundbreaking and I am very fortunate to have been part of it.”

Among the students’ key findings:

  • There has been no significant rise in crime trends following the opening of retail marijuana dispensaries in January 2014. While larceny crimes — shoplifting, purse snatching, bicycle theft and pickpocketing — rose by 44 percent in 2014, it is unclear whether the legalization of marijuana was a factor. Similarly, crimes against society, which include prostitution, gambling and parole violations, rose by 47 percent in 2014, although the role of legalization, if any, is unclear.
  • Race is a factor in perceptions about crime and livability following legalization. Most non-whites feel that crime has increased and are dissatisfied with their communities, while most white respondents feel crime has remained the same and are satisfied with their communities following legalization.
  • Most of the homeless shelter representatives surveyed believe that legalization has resulted in an increase in clients using their shelters; those keeping records of this population, which is transient and difficult to track, claim to have seen a 15-30 percent increase in the number of clients they serve.

Apart from allowing the students to hone their research skills, the studies have provided valuable presentation experience: In addition to last week’s event on campus, many of the students have or will present their findings at national conferences.

This is not the first time MSU Denver students have conducted research of relevance to the Denver community. Last year, LoDo bar/business owners approached the Criminal Justice and Criminology Department for research related to growing crime downtown in order to gain data that could lead to public safety policy changes. Based on their research, students recommended actions such as clearing congestion near bars after closing, adding more lights outside of bars and implementing a curfew for those under age 21.

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