Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

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

Thanks to this posting at Marijuana Moment, I just now saw a study with the same title as the title of this post.   This study, which was authored by Erin Farley and Stan Orchowsky and was supported "using funding from the National Institute of Justice, between the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Justice Research and Statistics Association," sought "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 those that have legalized marijuana? This includes Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, and Kansas; and (3) What are the impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on drug trafficking through northern and southwest border states?  This includes Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington."

Notably, the paper highlights that state Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) "were unable to provide the requested information" to answer these questions as a result of the fact that the requested data "did not exist because they were not being tracked or they were being tracked/collected but were not readily available because they were not being reported in any systematic way to a centralized agency." Data limitations notwithstanding and subject to other caveats about analytical challenges, the report ends noting "some general conclusions can be offered based on the analyses of the quantitative and qualitative data presented here."  Here are excerpts from these conclusions:

First, it indeed seems to be the case that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana results in fewer marijuana related arrests and court cases.  Whether we look at arrests or court case filings for possession or distribution, marijuana related offenses seem to have decreased in Oregon and Washington since legalization of recreational use. In most cases, these decreases appear to have started well before legislation was enacted, perhaps reflecting changes in law enforcement policies and practices in anticipation of the coming policy changes.

Interviews with law enforcement officials, though based on the perceptions of only a small number of respondents, provided insight into a number of concerns with regard to legalization of marijuana, including the potency of marijuana products, increased marijuana use among youth, and increases in incidents of drugged driving.  All of these anecdotal “findings” may potentially be verified empirically, provided that law enforcement agencies collect the requisite data and make it available for analysis. It should also be noted that several of the law enforcement officers interviewed indicated that methamphetamine and heroin were much larger problems for their agencies than was marijuana.

Our efforts to address the second question, regarding border states, were limited by the lack of availability of data in these states.  Nevertheless, for the data we examined, we saw no evidence that marijuana legalization had an impact on indicators in border states. Marijuana-related arrests and charges did not increase in either the state as a whole or, in the case of Nebraska, in counties that directly border the state that legalized marijuana, after legalization. It is possible that additional indicators or a longer follow-up time period might reveal impacts in these states and localities.  The few interviews we conducted in one border state (Nebraska) suggested increases in the potency of marijuana and in incidents of driving under the influence of marijuana. Again, these are perceptions that should be verified by future research.

The third question, related to drug trafficking, was particularly challenging to address.  Relatively few individuals were charged with trafficking in the data we examined, and it is difficult to identify other indicators of trafficking in state and local data.  However, in the data we did examine we found no indications of increases in arrests related to transportation/trafficking offenses.  Interview results suggested that drug trafficking had indeed increased in some states, including border states. Again, it is possible that different indicators, examined over a longer period of time, might reveal impacts of marijuana legalization on drug trafficking.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2019/10/measuring-the-criminal-justice-system-impacts-of-marijuana-legalization-and-decriminalization-using-.html

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