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Police believe a lax attitude toward marijuana could be increasing crime

A number of crimes involving marijuana in central Arkansas have law enforcement agencies questioning what is to blame.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A number of crimes involving marijuana in central Arkansas have law enforcement agencies questioning what is to blame.

One theory is a changed view of marijuana in general. About 61 percent of Americans said the use of marijuana should be legalized. According to the Pew Research Center, that number has doubled what it was in the year 2000.

Law enforcement agencies in central Arkansas said they worry this lax attitude about marijuana has emboldened criminals, leaving behind deadly consequences.

"We've always had crime related to marijuana, I mean that's always been the case,” said Kevin Russell, a captain with Benton police. "I looked for cases involving marijuana just in the city since June 1, and it was 28 incidents, where it was somehow related in some shape, form, or fashion. That just seems like such an extremely high number that we've seen in a very short period of time."

Chief Mike Davis said his department has noticed a similar trend in North Little Rock.

"We started really noticing that increase because several of our homicides this year kind of had ties to the marijuana trade, the Chief said from behind his desk.

Both men said they believe the growing support for decriminalizing marijuana nationwide has partly to blame.

"We're seeing a lot of career criminals that are now going down the marijuana-selling road because they know that the punishment is less and there's a good chance they're not going to go to prison,” David added.

Just last month, Jacksonville's new police chief announced minor marijuana arrests would no longer be a priority in that city. A City of Little Rock board member attempted to do the same.

"There's nothing wrong with marijuana. Okay. But look what other things happen as a result of it: car break-ins, house break-ins, commercial burglaries, shootings, robberies, and homicides,” Chief Davis said with a shrug.

Despite the legalization of medical marijuana in some states, including here in Arkansas, Captain Russell said the black market still has a strong grip on those who don't qualify for the cards.

"You don't have to Google very many stories to find out that the black market is still alive and well in Colorado," he added. Conversely, Couch also uses Colorado to prove his point.

"We're not plowing any new ground here. There are 30 other states where marijuana has been legalized for medical and/or recreational use. More liquor stores get robbed than dispensaries,” he said.

Benton and North Little Rock Police Departments will continue arresting people for pot-related crimes.

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