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Review of Law & Economics

Editor-in-Chief: Parisi, Francesco

Ed. by Cooter, Robert D. / Gómez Pomar, Fernando / Kornhauser, Lewis A. / Parchomovsky, Gideon / Engel, Christoph

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2015: 0.196
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2015: 0.401
Impact per Publication (IPP) 2015: 0.244

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Do Citizens Know Whether Their State Has Decriminalized Marijuana? Assessing the Perceptual Component of Deterrence Theory

Robert MacCoun1 / Rosalie Liccardo Pacula2 / Jamie Chriqui3 / Katherine Harris4 / Peter Reuter5

1University of California at Berkeley

2RAND Corporation and NBER

3University of Illinois at Chicago

4RAND Corporation

5University of Maryland - College Park and RAND

Citation Information: Review of Law & Economics. Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 347–371, ISSN (Online) 1555-5879, DOI: 10.2202/1555-5879.1227, June 2009

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Deterrence theory proposes that legal compliance is influenced by the anticipated risk of legal sanctions. This implies that changes in law will produce corresponding changes in behavior, but the marijuana decriminalization literature finds only fragmentary support for this prediction. But few studies have directly assessed the accuracy of citizens’ perceptions of legal sanctions. The heterogeneity in state statutory penalties for marijuana possession across the United States provides an opportunity to examine this issue. Using national survey data, we find that the percentages who believe they could be jailed for marijuana possession are quite similar in both states that have removed those penalties and those that have not. Our results help to clarify why statistical studies have found inconsistent support for an effect of decriminalization on marijuana possession.

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