Fox News, the New York Post and more claim marijuana is a factor leading to violence – but is it true?
Certain segments of American has been quick to point the blame of mass shooting to everything from marijuana to video games to side doors. As May 2023 starts, the US has had more than 200 mass shootings. The discussion around addressing this uniquely American problem is coming to the forefront. Most people want an easy answer, and for some, marijuana is the cause of all the problems. The trouble is, data doesn’t back them up. Does marijuana play a role in mass shootings?
Cannabis use, and especially heavy cannabis consumption, has been on the rise since 1992, and the national homicide rates have fallen more than 50% over the same time.
Experts are skeptical about the supposed connection between marijuana and violence. Marijuana use is higher in young men, people with serious adverse childhood experiences, antisocial personality, low income, low education and use of other illicit substances. All of these are well known risk factors for violence in their own right.
So yes, many mass shooters have proven to be marijuana users, experts said. But that doesn’t mean pot made them pull the trigger. They also watch violent movies, eat fast food and take hot baths, but that doesn’t give the motive or means to shoot up an outlet mall.
A study published in The Economic Journal in 2017 found that states on the US-Mexico border that legalized medical marijuana saw a decrease in violent crimes of 5.6 to 12.5 percent. And in Colorado and Washington, it had little to do with crime rates. Mass shootings do not regularly occur in countries where marijuana is legal other than the United States.
Champions of marijuana being the cause of violence and leading to mass shooting cite a book by Alex Berenson. But the book has been a source of controversy since it was published. The book uses flawed methodology and data. A public letter signed by 100 scholars and clinicians refuted findings and accused Berenson of cherry-picking data and presenting correlation as causation.
Katherine Newman, System Chancellor for Academic Programs, the Senior Vice President for Economic Development at UMass Amherst and the author of a book on school shootings. “There is no link whatsoever between marijuana and extreme violence.”
With regards to video games, a UK study published in February 2019 was based on interviews with 1,004 British 14- and 15-year-olds and their caregivers. The teens were asked about their gaming and the adults who cared for them were asked about the teens’ behavior.
“Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behavior,” the study concluded.
Similarly, a 2018 study by Stetson and Florida State University researchers found that the role of violent video games “in the development of youth psychopathology or crime is very little, if any.”
Facts and information matter when it comes to the lives of our fellow citizens.