A new study may finally give medical marijuana advocates the ammunition they need to push for legalizing medical marijuana in more states.

Once of the most common arguments against legalizing medical marijuana is that it may be linked to increasing crime rates. However, the new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas in Dallas (UT Dallas) indicates that such claims may be unfounded. The researchers' findings were published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

"Results did not indicate a crime exacerbating effect of MML on any of the Part I offenses. Alternatively, state MML may be correlated with a reduction in homicide and assault rates, net of other covariates," says the study. "These findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes."

Aside from finding that there wasn't an increase in general crime rates in the 11 states that legalized the use of medical marijuana, the researchers also found that there was actually a reduction in the incidence of certain crimes such as homicide and assault in some states.

"We're cautious about saying, 'Medical marijuana laws definitely reduce homicide.' That's not what we're saying," said UT Dallas associate professor of criminology Robert Morris said. "The main finding is that we found no increase in crime rates resulting from medical marijuana legalization. In fact, we found some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault."

The study was conducted using data from U.S. state panels on crime rates. The researchers began their analysis in 2012 in response to increasing claims about the relationship between medical marijuana and increased violent and property crimes. The team analyzed data from over 50 states, including the data on the 11 states that legalized medical marijuana.

"The results are remarkable," Morris added. "It's pretty telling. It will be interesting to see what future studies hold."

The researchers also used crime data obtained from the Uniform Crime Report of the FBI. The team looked at data about crimes like larceny, assault, burglary, auto theft, rape, robbery and homicide.

"This new information, along with continued education of the public on the realities of the negative aspects of smoking marijuana - which there are considerable negative attributes - will make the dialogue between those opposed and in favor of legalization on more of an even playing field," Morris said. "It takes away the subjective comments about the link between marijuana laws and crime so the dialogue can be more in tune with reality."

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