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Effect of Marijuana Legalization on Law Enforcement and Crime Research Paper Example


Marijuana’s legal status in the United States has shifted and evolved for many years. As early as the 1970s, several states decriminalized marijuana usage, while in 2001, others began to legalize the drug’s medical use (Farley & Orchowsky, 2019). To better understand the effect of the new laws on criminal behavior and criminal justice resources, law enforcement agencies, lawmakers, and academics are all conducting research. Allowing legal enterprises to manufacture and sell cannabis while taxing their earnings and regulating trade in the same way as alcohol and cigarettes have eliminated criminal penalties (Hickenlooper, 2014). State-level marijuana legalization proponents and opponents make several claims about the policy. Several proponents argue that legalizing decreases crime while increasing tax income, lowering criminal justice costs, improving public health while increasing road safety, and stimulating the economy overall. Critics contend that legalizing marijuana encourages the use of other drugs and alcohol, increases crime, reduces traffic safety, damages public health, and decreases adolescent academic performance due to increased crime and traffic safety.

In this regard, this essay will analyze the effects of marijuana legation on crime and law enforcement and offer recommendations on what states can do to minimize the adverse effects of marijuana.

History on Marijuana Legalization

When it comes to illegal drugs, marijuana is the most often used and most easily accessible. Law enforcement officers and other resources have been devoted to enforcing marijuana’s illegality, adding to the already overcrowded jail and judicial systems. Compared with other legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine, marijuana has a higher medicinal benefit (Hickenlooper, 2014). Marijuana usage has resulted in lower public health expenditures than other drug use, including prescription medications and legal alcoholic and cigarette products. At a municipal and state level, there has been significant movement on reforming marijuana policy

According to Sacco and Finklea (2013), the number of Americans with medical marijuana licenses was about 1.03 million. Both California and Colorado have some of the most permissive medical marijuana legislation and law enforcement practices in the country (Farley &Orchowsky, 2019). A significant number of people in both jurisdictions use medical marijuana. In 2012, voters in Washington and Colorado approved ballot measures legalizing recreational marijuana use and possessing small amounts of the drug (McGinty et al., 2016). State-licensed businesses will lawfully produce and sell marijuana under the same tax and regulatory framework as alcoholic beverages under the new legislation.

Eight states are currently working on legislation to legalize or at the very least decriminalize the use of medicinal marijuana, while legislation to legalize medical marijuana was presented in another twelve states but was rejected in each of those jurisdictions (Sacco &Finklea, 2013). Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 narcotic in the eyes of the federal government, meaning it is reserved for the most dangerous and addictive drugs that have no medical use (McGinty et al., 2016). When marijuana users and manufacturers followed state rules, federal authorities did not rigorously enforce the federal prohibition on marijuana.

After a crackdown on the medical marijuana industry began in late 2011, many producers were arrested, crops were destroyed, and a large number of dispensaries in the state were forced to close because of the federal government’s crackdown (Farley &Orchowsky, 2019). Banks and credit card processing companies have been forced to stop serving marijuana shops, forcing them only to accept cash as payment. Instead of targeting individual medical marijuana license holders or non-profit businesses on a broad scale, federal authorities should, according to Sacco and Finklea (2013), concentrate their efforts on large enterprises in California that are out of control.

Impacts on Legalization of Marijuana

Medical marijuana, often known as cannabis Sativa, is an illegal psychoactive drug derived from cannabis. Since its introduction, the substance has been used both recreationally and therapeutically. Cannabis use for various purposes continues to be contentious in many countries, particularly in the United States. Other governments, however, feel that marijuana is detrimental to human health and have banned its use in their jurisdictions. Several debates have erupted around the legalization of marijuana, with an abnormally significant quantity of conflicting research being conducted (McGinty et al., 2016). According to research, the number of individuals driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs has increased in states that have decriminalized marijuana. According to several statistics, the incidence of cross-border marijuana transfers in countries where the drug has been legalized is on the rise (Farley &Orchowsky, 2019). As a result of the increasing popularity of marijuana, some believe that law enforcement agencies are struggling to keep up with the costs of cannabis-related enforcement operations and a lack of training and methods for dealing with public safety concerns. According to the criminal justice system, the number of individuals prosecuted with nonviolent marijuana possession has dropped significantly since marijuana became legal.


The legalization of marijuana has a variety of negative consequences that must be addressed. The availability of the medication would very certainly result in increased usage. The marketing of marijuana is also likely to target children and adolescents, which will increase the number of young people who use marijuana. According to Farley and Orchowsky(2019), the use of marijuana by adolescents may result in more significant misuse and addiction rates in the future. Cannabis seems to be associated with some mental disorders, including psychosis and schizophrenia (Shepard &Blackley, 2007). Compared to young individuals who do not use marijuana, children who begin using marijuana may have lower IQs. Aside from that, the marijuana on the market now is a quite different substance from the marijuana that was accessible many decades ago. THC levels in marijuana presently available are much greater than in previous generations, making it possibly more harmful to the brain and addictive. Cannabis is considered a gateway drug by many medical professionals as well. In other words, individuals may start smoking marijuana and then use more deadly substances like heroin. According to studies on medical marijuana legislation and its consequences, typical users do not have fatal or severe diseases (Paschall et al., 2017). Still, they have almost two times greater addiction rates than in places where medical marijuana is not legal. Having the possibility of private organizations financing the manufacturing and marketing of marijuana and all associated goods would almost certainly have a negative impact on everyone, particularly young people, who would be a significant marketing target for these products.

Goldstein’s (1985) tripartite conceptual framework proposes three possible connections between drugs and crime: pharmacological, economically compulsive, and systemic, and may be used to describe the connection between legalization and crime (Sabet, 2018). The psychopharmacological model looks at how drugs impact one’s personality (an irrational behavior). Due to the drug’s suppression of cognitive processes or paranoia, marijuana usage may lead to aggressive or illogical reactions to conflict. Marijuana addicts who are going through withdrawal may also get agitated or impatient, leading to aggressive or violent conduct (Paschallet al., 2017). No evidence exists to substantiate allegations that marijuana causes violence, even though it is widely used.

It is essential to keep in mind that drug addiction is not always accompanied by criminal conduct. Most of the time, scientists cannot determine whether or not criminals were intoxicated when they committed their crimes. As per the economically compulsive paradigm, drug addicts may turn to property crimes or other financial crimes to keep their drug habit going. However, there is evidence to indicate a link between prohibition and crime. Joffe and Yancy(2004) discovered that marijuana charges were linked to an increase in burglary, theft, robbery, and auto theft between 1990 and 2001. Convictions for marijuana possession may increase robberies and vehicle thefts since arrests may make it more difficult for a person to get legal employment (Sabet, 2018). Due to the greater danger of being caught and prosecuted, marijuana is more costly when it is illegal, which drives up the cost of production and sale (Shepard &Blackley, 2007). When marijuana is illegal, it costs more to manufacture since it must be discreetly and tiny to prevent discovery. Marijuana is expensive, which may increase the number of users turning to economic crime to pay for it.

Systemic violence is the most important of the framework’s three components regarding the link between marijuana use and criminal conduct. The drug market may be dangerous for sellers and consumers alike since they are often the targets of violent encounters between dealers, disputes over unpaid purchases, retaliation against purchasers who are unhappy with the quality of their purchase, and other acts of violence (Sabet, 2018). Drug trafficking is linked to violence, as is drug usage, according to research. Violent victimization and group drug use are linked, according to Joffe and Yancy (2004). The drug distribution network is essentially violent, with even marijuana sales associated with a high frequency of murder and other kinds of violence—tries Goldstein’s to explain the relationship between the drug trade and crime. Hickenlooper (2014) conducted a meta-analysis of fifteen research that looked at the connection between the enforcement of drug laws and the violence on the drug market. They discovered a connection between an increase in aggressive behavior and law enforcement’s disruption of drug markets. As a result of drugs being illegal, individuals engaged in the black market have little recourse except to use violence to settle their differences.

Marijuana critics argue that partly because of the psychopharmacological effects marijuana has on its users, legalizing marijuana would lead to a rise in crime rates. Police chiefs, governors, politicians, and worried individuals spoke out against marijuana in the lead-up to the 2012 referendums in the states polled, citing the drug’s alleged connections to crime as a justification (Shepard & Blackley, 2007). They also claimed that legalizing marijuana would make it easier to transport the material across borders to countries where it was still illegal, resulting in harmful spillover consequences.


Research has centered on the possibility that legalizing marijuana would result in a rise in demand and, therefore, manufacturing and distributing other “harder” substances, such as opioids. Medical marijuana legalization (MML) and recreational marijuana legalization, on the other hand, have been linked to a decrease in opioid usage, according to numerous research (Sabet, 2018). According to the findings of a study done in 2016, MML legislation differed from laws that reduced penalties for drug possession. The possession of marijuana will be more popular if it is legal to do so. There will be no increase in the availability of marijuana since it is illegal to produce, distribute, and sell it in the United States (Ammerman et al., 2015). Profits and the urge to exert control over the market will both rise as the price of marijuana rises. Authors who looked at the effects of decriminalizing MML found that the legislation resulted in a 4 percent to 12 percent reduction in robberies, thefts, and burglaries per year. Decriminalization may have increased crime without legalizing cannabis production, distribution, and sale, it was found.

The adoption of MML in states bordering Mexico, according to a 2017 study, reduced homicides and aggravated assaults significantly in those states—with the most significant reductions happening in counties closest to the border, according to the report. In their opinion, the authors’ findings demonstrate that MML lowers the demand for unlawfully sourced marijuana by providing legitimate sources of the substance (Ammerman et al., 2015). This, in turn, diminishes the activities of Mexican drug traffickers and associated gangs and the use of violence to keep control of the market.

Proponents of marijuana legalization argue that moving the drug’s manufacture and sale from illegal markets to licit ones will help reduce crime. Large amounts of marijuana commerce may continue in semi-legal or underground markets due to high tax rates and rigorous regulation, but this reinforces the argument for broader legalization’s potential to reduce crime (Shepard & Blackley, 2007). On the other hand, legalization may relieve law enforcement of the need to focus on drug-related crimes, freeing them to pursue more severe criminals. Additionally, increased tax money from legalized marijuana will combat crime, which is a win-win. According to law enforcement specialists, there will be changes in policing tactics and some challenges for local law enforcement organizations in the near future.


Preventing Distribution to Minors

Strategies to prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors should be a top goal for the federal government. According to the historical facts, early marijuana usage has been linked to many hazardous behaviors, including academic difficulties, motivation and attention issues, risky sexual conduct, drug and alcohol addiction, gang involvement, and slowed brain development (Ammerman et al., 2015). Even though many research links early marijuana use to severe complications, establishing causality has been elusive.

It is a federal government goal to prevent the distribution of legal marijuana to minors for preventing disruption of brain development, low academic performance, and future drug usage. Teenage years are critical for brain development, and evidence shows that early marijuana usage impairs brain growth in general (Ammerman et al., 2015). Other research examining the link between early marijuana usage and future academic performance and drug use has come up empty-handed. Researchers have discovered an association between these variables, but they have yet to establish a causative link. Despite this, this research serves as a foundation for marijuana policy to prevent drug distribution to children and adolescents.

Preventing Criminal Enterprises from Profiting

Preventing legal marijuana market income from funding criminal organizations like gangs and multinational cartels. Eliminating marijuana off the black market is a significant tactic for cutting down on the influence of criminal groups that rely on illicit marijuana revenues to fund their operations (Ammerman et al., 2015). Vicente Fox, a former Mexican president, said that a successful marijuana policy is “a plan to undermine and destroy the economic structure that enables cartels to make enormous profits.”

According to current research, criminal organizations benefit from federal prohibition and state-by-state differences in marijuana legislation. The National Drug Intelligence Center stated that Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) make between $18 billion and $39 billion yearly, with the ONDCP estimating that 60% of Mexican DTO income originates from the export of marijuana. These figures are disputed by Ammerman et al. (2015), who claim that the statistics are politically driven and rely on unreliable sources. According to Ward et al. (2019), Mexican DTOs earn approximately $1.5-2 billion in gross income from marijuana exports, with marijuana accounting for 15-26% of total drug export earnings. However, their calculation does not include the income produced by marijuana cultivation and sales in the United States, which are significant.

There is a high priority for the federal government and California to prevent criminal organizations from benefiting from the legal marijuana industry. Medical or recreational legalization of marijuana, together with adequate restrictions, “would essentially reduce Mexican DTOs’ profits from providing Mexican-grown marijuana to the California market,” according toWard et al. (2019). Some questions remain about the impact of lower marijuana profits on DTO organizations, such as increasing trafficking in other drugs or expanding their criminal enterprises such as gun trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and gambling, or whether they will increase their activities in human trafficking. DTOs’ ability to operate is endangered, therefore stopping them from benefiting from marijuana is a key concern.

Preventing Drunk Driving

It is critical for a legal marijuana market and a key priority for the federal government to prevent drunken driving. Marijuana use has been shown to diminish one’s response speed and hand-eye coordination, which are all factors in driving impairment (Ward et al., 2019). When compared to drunk drivers, marijuana users have a greater awareness of their impairment and compensate by using techniques that have been proven to improve driver safety, such as driving slower, avoiding hazardous movements, and increasing following distances.

Nevertheless, combating drunk driving should be a top government priority. Marijuana use while driving is a particularly hazardous practice because of the potentially lethal mixing of the drug with alcohol. Researchers found that using marijuana and alcohol together increases one’s chance of a fatal automobile accident. According to Ward et al. (2019), this “multiplier effect” makes it more hazardous than either substance taken alone. Drivers who combine marijuana and alcohol do not notice their impairment and do not use methods to adjust for it. That encourages reckless driving, which raises the likelihood of deadly automobile accidents. Keeping roads safe requires preventing impaired driving.


Legalizing marijuana comes with risks; nevertheless, the damage connected with marijuana use and legalization pales in contrast to the harm associated with prohibition. The Marijuana Justice Act should be considered a sound policy, and it would eventually be helpful to the criminal justice system. Today’s drug policy issue is discovering better methods to decrease drug usage while using cost-effective and consistent techniques with contemporary values. Policy on marijuana should not be seen as a choice between prohibition and the for-profit commercial model, as seen in Colorado and Washington. Increasing the health, education, and production of the United States will be impossible without reducing marijuana usage.  Marijuana legalization will lead to higher rates of marijuana addiction among children and adults because it would increase rather than decrease marijuana use. The federal government has to implement reforms that will curb down its distribution and regulate its use.


Ammerman, S., Ryan, S., Adelman, W. P., & Committee on Substance Abuse. (2015). The impact of marijuana policies on youth: clinical, research, and legal update. Pediatrics135(3), e769-e785.

Farley, E. J., &Orchowsky, S. (2019). Measuring the criminal justice system impacts of marijuana legalization and decriminalization using state data. JRSA, Justice Research and Statistics Association.

Hickenlooper, G. J. W. (2014). Experimenting with pot: The state of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. The Milbank Quarterly92(2), 243.

Joffe, A., &Yancy, W. S. (2004). Legalization of marijuana: potential impact on youth. Pediatrics113(6), e632-e638.

McGinty, E. E., Samples, H., Bandara, S. N., Saloner, B., Bachhuber, M. A., & Barry, C. L. (2016). The emerging public discourse on state legalization of marijuana for recreational use in the US: Analysis of news media coverage, 2010–2014. Preventive medicine90, 114-120.

Paschall, M. J., Grube, J. W., &Biglan, A. (2017). Medical marijuana legalization and marijuana use among youth in Oregon. The journal of primary prevention38(3), 329-341.

Sabet, K. (2018). Marijuana and legalization impacts. Berkeley J. Crim. L.23, 84.

Sacco, L. N., &Finklea, K. (2013). State marijuana legalization initiatives: implications for federal law enforcement. Congressional Research Service.

Shepard, E. M., &Blackley, P. R. (2007). The impact of marijuana law enforcement in an economic model of crime. Journal of Drug Issues37(2), 403-424.

Ward, K. C., Lucas, P. A., & Murphy, A. (2019). The impact of marijuana legalization on law enforcement in states surrounding Colorado. Police quarterly22(2), 217-242.

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