This article presents qualitative findings associated with the experiences of law enforcement officers tasked with enforcing laws within a novel environment of cannabis legalization.
Research partner agencies and participants included local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies in Washington and bordering areas of Idaho. Semi-structured interviews explored the pre- and post-legalization experiences of 92 police professionals (ranging from first-line officers to agency leadership). Findings suggest that law enforcement authorities in Washington felt insufficiently prepared for cannabis legalization, are now concerned about greater exposure of youth to cannabis because of legalization, and broadly believe that cannabis-related impaired driving has increased markedly and poses a major public safety problem for them. These issues, alongside pressing needs in the areas of agency staffing, training, and equipment related directly to dealing with cannabis legalization outcomes, require attention by policymakers to mitigate major operational challenges. These same or similar issues are likely to arise in other states trending toward the commercialization and regulation of cannabis. (publisher abstract modified)