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Measuring the Criminal Justice System Impacts of Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Using State Data

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2019
49 pages
This report details a National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) funded research project designed to analyze the impact of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on state criminal justice system resources.
The goal of this project was to analyze quantitative and qualitative data in 11 targeted states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) to address three research questions: 1. what are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on criminal justice resources in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon?; 2. what are the impacts on criminal justice resources in states that border the states (Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas) that have legalized marijuana?; and 3. what are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on drug trafficking through northern and southwest border states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington)? Quantitative data from seven Statistical Analysis Centers was provided and 35 interviews with law enforcement personnel in seven states were conducted to address the three research questions. Analyses of the available data suggests that: 1. legalizing the recreational use of marijuana resulted in fewer marijuana related arrests and court cases; 2. legalizing marijuana did not have a noticeable impact on indicators in states that bordered those that legalized; and 3. there were no noticeable indications of an increase in arrests related to transportation or trafficking offenses in states along the northern or southern borders. Interviews with law enforcement officials identified a number of concerns about the legalization of marijuana, including the potency of marijuana products, increased marijuana use among youth, the influx of people from out-of-town or out-of-state, and increases in incidents of drugged driving. The project identified a number of challenges associated with the availability and usefulness of marijuana-related data in the states, and the authors suggest that both the quantitative and qualitative data should be interpreted with caution given the limitations of each identified by the project.

Date Published: July 1, 2019