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The theory: less crack use led to less crime

The case for: Crack consumption and sales definitely fueled crime and disorder in the 1980s. While other drug epidemics have succeeded crack, they haven’t led to the same violent drug markets.

”The popular myth is that it’s all addicts committing crimes to support their habits,” John Roman of the Urban Institute says. “There’s absolutely some of that … but a much bigger part of the story is the drug-selling network — and the crime that went between the network and the gangs, and the crime that went around the sales.”

The case against: Sure, it’s possible. But cracking down on crack didn’t stop illegal drug consumption or sales. It’s called the balloon effect: Cracking down on drug trafficking in one area merely shifts it to other places, since demand among users and sellers for the substances never really declines.

The bottom line: The data is incomplete. Surprisingly, this is one of the harder theories to study — because most of the best data on drug use was collected as a response to the crack epidemic, it doesn’t cover the worst years of it.