Numerous studies have suggested that marijuana users are less violent than those who consume alcohol. But would substituting marijuana for liquor also cut down on sexual assaults currently plaguing so many colleges across the country? Yes, argues New York magazine's Annie Lowery -- and she believes higher taxes on liquid intoxicants might be one way of pushing young people toward what cannabis advocates such as Mason Tvert have long maintained is a safer alternative.
"Want to Reduce Rape and Sexual Assault on College Campuses? Tax Beer and Legalize Pot," a recent Lowery article, notes that "social scientists and public-policy types have long recognized the deep linkages between alcohol use and crime on college campuses. According to government research, every year, 97,000 students are 'victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape,' with alcohol consumption having a profound effect on perpetrators' behavior. Alcohol reduces inhibition and attention to social cues, and increases aggression. Individuals also use it to justify and abet assault, or to muddy a victim's memory of and manipulate his or her feelings about the act in question."
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She supports these contentions with references to research such as "Drugs of abuse and the elicitation of human aggressive behavior," a paper originally published by the journal Addictive Behaviors; it's on view below. The document holds that "alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship." In contrast, its authors maintain that " cannabis reduces likelihood of violence during intoxication" in most circumstances, with the exception of "withdrawal."
How to lower the alcohol consumption that seems to fuel so many of these campus crimes? Lowery points to sources such as CollegeDrinkingPrevention.gov, whose report about strategies points out that "a substantial body of research has shown that higher alcoholic beverage prices or taxes are associated with lower levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems."
If alcohol is more expensive, will students gravitate to marijuana as an alternative? A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research also shared here offers data from non-fatal motor-vehicle accidents in support of this possibility. The abstract from the paper states in part:
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These results indicate that the net effect of an increase in the full price of alcohol beverages on the probability of a youth traffic crash is negative. However, the opposite is found for marijuana. That is, the results imply that the reduction of accidents resulting from substitution away from alcohol beverages and other intoxicating substances to marijuana as its full price is lower more than offsets accidents related to marijuana use.
Lowery acknowledges that the substitution evidence isn't exactly iron-clad; indeed, the NBER paper dates all the way back to 1994. But she still sees the following as a formula for improvement: "Tax the frat boys for their beer and booze, lower the price of pot, and make campuses a far safer place."
Look below to see the aforementioned studies from the journal Addictive Behaviors and the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.