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Effects of Marijuana Legalization on Law Enforcement and Crime

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $995,831)

The research on the implementation of Initiative 502 (I-502), Washington State’s recreational marijuana legalization law, has not yet addressed the effect of marijuana legalization on law enforcement and crime in rural, urban, tribal, campus and statewide jurisdictions in the state of Washington and nearby border regions in Idaho and Oregon. Several states and countries are considering legalization in their own jurisdictions, and are scrutinizing the implementation in Washington and other states. We propose the use of a multi-site and multi-method three tier design to answer these two related research questions:

1. How are law enforcement in different jurisdictions handling drug offenses and offenders, particularly involving marijuana, before and after legalization?

2. What are the effects of marijuana legalization on crime in urban, rural, tribal, campus, border areas and statewide since implementation of I-502.

These two questions get to the heart of the implementation of I-502, a public policy whose details were not worked out before it was voted into law in November 2012. Our three year study will include police/sheriff partners in 10 agencies in Washington state and Idaho. We will assess both qualitative (focus groups, interviews) and quantitative (camera footage, UCRs, traffic, mental health) data about how police practices and strategies, and crime itself, have been affected by legalization in Washington and how that has changed policing in adjacent border areas (including Idaho and Oregon). Our research plan will allow for the cross validation of findings at the individual, organizational and jurisdictional levels providing the opportunity for consistent themes to emerge. Our qualitative approach is grounded in interpretative phenomenological analysis of individual-level data and configurational comparative methods for case study comparisons, while our quantitative analyses use Event F modeling of camera data and interrupted time series analysis for aggregate trends. Our study design will allow us to tease out key lessons for states and countries interested in legalization of recreational marijuana. We will publish our findings in peer reviewed journals, share our findings with our 10 law enforcement partners and with supporters in Washington State (U.S. Attorney's Office, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Washington Traffic Safety Commission) and we will present our findings at national practitioner and academic conferences and at international conferences. Our data and findings will be archived and shared with the National Institute of Justice. ca/ncf

Date Created: September 12, 2016