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Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Law Enforcement and Crime: Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2020
158 pages
This is the Final Report of a research project that used a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches in examining the effects on crime and law enforcement of Washington State's legalization of possession of a small amount of cannabis by adults.
On July 1, 2014, licensed retail outlets in Washington opened with a regulated and monitored cannabis product. In examining the effect of this legislation and policy on crime and law enforcement, this study used focus groups that involved municipal, county, state, and tribal law enforcement personnel; joint and individual interviews with 153 justice system personnel; case study profiles; and quantitative crime data, data on calls for service, body and dashboard police video footage, and data on police practices and strategies. Analysis of these data found that Washington's marijuana legalization has not had an overall consistently positive or negative effect on measured public safety indicators. Rather, marijuana legalization has resulted in a varied set of outcomes, including concern about youth accessing marijuana, increased driving under the influence of marijuana, and a prevalent belief that there has been an increase in the cross-border transfer of legal marijuana to states that have not legalized marijuana sale and use. There are also reports that funding for cannabis-related law enforcement activities have lacked training and techniques for dealing with public safety issues that stem from the effects of increased marijuana use. Police have expressed concern about how to detect and document marijuana-related impairment in both commercial vehicle operations and traffic incidents. On the positive side, the legalization of marijuana has apparently reduced the number of persons processed by the criminal justice system who have been charged with nonviolent marijuana possession. 49 figures, 8 tables, and appended research instruments

Date Published: June 1, 2020