Legalizing POT was supposed to reduce crime, or so advocates argued. The theory was simple: As cannabis buyers beat a path to the nearest dispensary, the black market would dry up, and with it the industry’s criminal element. Indeed, a study recently published in The Economic Journal found that after medical marijuana was legalized in California, violent crime fell 15 percent.
Talk to authorities in California’s Emerald Triangle, though, and a different story emerges. This 10,000-square-mile area (which includes Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties) by some estimates grows 60 percent of the country’s marijuana. Ben Filippini, a deputy sheriff in Humboldt, told me that ever since California’s 1996 medical-marijuana initiative, violent crime in his jurisdiction has increased: “People are getting shot over this plant. All legalization did here was create a safe haven for criminals.” When I asked Trinity County’s undersheriff, Christopher Compton, what’s happened since a 2016 initiative legalized pot in the state, he said: “We haven’t seen any drop in crime whatsoever. In fact, we’ve seen a pretty steady increase.” Compton’s counterpart in Mendocino, Matthew Kendall, agreed: “We’re seeing more robberies and more gun violence.”