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WSU Study to Look at Law Enforcement Since Legalization

Washington State University researchers are undertaking a $1 million, three-year study of how the state’s legalization of cannabis has affected law enforcement and crime.

According to officials, the study will look at state, count, and tribal police jurisdictions, as well as policing in neighboring states.

Marty Stohr, a principal investigator and professor of criminal justice and criminology, said that legalization has created a “great natural experiment” for studying the effect of changing cannabis policies on law enforcement and society in general.

“There’s plenty of people starting to look into this area because it has such a huge potential impact on our communities and families and because it’s a retreat from the war on drugs,” she said. “Our investigation will look at the people with the boots on the ground in that war, the folks that actually have to deliver policy and have to interact with the public and deal with the implications of the policy.”

Some are hoping the study may lead to a set of law enforcement “best practices” that might be helpful to police departments in other states that legalize cannabis, said Dale Willits, the study’s co-investigator and WSU assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology.

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The National Institute of Justice, a research agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, will be funding the study. The research will compare how law enforcement officers handle cannabis-related crime and offenders before and after legalization. It will also examine the effects of legalization on crime, clearance rates, or crimes that result in charges, and other activities across Washington, including urban, rural, tribal, and border areas.

The researchers plan to attack their project three ways. They will conduct in-depth case studies of ten law enforcement agencies, using historical and statistical information, interviews, focus groups and an analysis of camera footage. A second tier of the research will analyze arrests, reported crimes, crime clearance rates and traffic stops in the ten jurisdictions both before and after implementation of I-502. A third tier will involve a similar analysis for cities, counties, and statewide in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.