The Effect of Legalization of Marijuana on Law Enforcement





The Effect of Legalization of Marijuana on Law Enforcement


The legalization of marijuana has been a debatable topic in the recent times. This is primarily because it has presented various challenges as well as benefits of the communities involved. Some of the issues that have been highlighted included the impact of this legalization on public safety and criminal activity. An instance of the state that has been dealing with marijuana legalization is Colorado (Miller and Kuhns 40). According to the law enforcers in this state, there is need for partnership to be established that will be effectual in addressing and providing solutions for negative issues arising from marijuana legalization. Issues forwarded as being consequential effect of legalization included conflict development in term of state legalization, policies, local ordinances and procedures (Pacula et al. 7).  The complexity of marijuana legalization stem from the fact that it is still categorized as a schedule 1 controlled drug according to the law hence elaborating on the importance of the creation of a guideline that will assist in addressing challenges that law enforcement might face as they adapt to the change (Harper, Strumpf and Kaufman 207). The paper seeks to reflect on the positive and negative effects marijuana legalization will have on law enforcement in order to gain a deeper understanding of the overall experience theoretically and form an opinion on whether this legislation is a counterproductive or counteractive measure.


Marijuana Legalization Reception

In the United States, there are several states that have implemented the legalization of marijuana. These states include Washington DC, Alaska and Oregon as well as Colorado (Harper, Strumpf and Kaufman 208). With this implementation, it is valid to state that the effect of this legal action is still unknown, however, the main reason reasons that the states have provided in justifying these implementation is a technique of freeing the police force in order for them to focus on other criminal activities that does not involved marijuana (Pacula et al. 20). It is important to understand the opinion of people within these states in order to comprehend whether they support or oppose this legalization of a schedule I drug. According to the report compiled by the Post Marist in the NBC4, there were an approximated 64% of the people in Columbia support this legalization. This was compared to the 49% of people that opposed this initiative in Alaska during the July poll in the same year. In Oregon, as elaborated by a report compiled by the Survey USA-KATU TV, there was an estimated 44% who were in favor of the legalization of marijuana with a 40% opposition rate (Miller and Kuhns 45). Based on these statistics, it is evident that marijuana legislation has been accepted though not fully in various states in America indicating anticipation by the public towards this action. However, despite this acceptability, it is important to evaluate the impact this legalization has had on the police force and the manner in which law enforcers have been able to counteract the difficulties faced stemming from this amendment.

Impact on the Police and Law Enforcement Agencies

Increased Burglaries and Robberies

As the legislation of marijuana was put in place, the U.S Department of Justice and U.S Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network was obligated to take necessary measures that would serve as effectual guidelines for marijuana business entities (Miller and Kuhns 60). These guidelines state that for marijuana business transactions with the state and federal banks to be considered legal, they should comply with the legalization laws. However, the main issue that has been faced regarding the relation between banks and marijuana business individuals and growers is that most banks have opted out of dealing with such businesses because it places the financial institution in the risk of investigation from crime dealing forces (Pacula et al. 30). The primary reason for investigation includes accepting and dealing with cash from marijuana dealers which can be sniffed by marijuana sniffing dogs as they smell of the drug.  This reality was justified by news reports who confirmed that several banking institution have reported of being investigated by major crime bureaus such as FBI due to their possession of cash smelling of marijuana (Harper, Strumpf and Kaufman 210). This is a serious issues because despite the legalization of marijuana, it remains a schedule I drug hence banks can be legally prosecuted for money laundering if found in possession of marijuana smelling cash as they will be charged of accepting cash from illegalized businesses. Due to these restrictions, many of the marijuana dealers have opted to keep the cash accrued from the marijuana business in their place of work which has made them a target for robberies and burglaries.

Another issue that has served to worsen such crimes is the fact that marijuana remains a cash only business endeavor. This is despite the fact that some states such s Colorado has ensured the development of credit unions to fulfill the financing need in the marijuana industry (Møller 157). This cash only policy has greatly contributed to the criminal activities and safety risks within such states as observed by the Police Foundation focus group hence prompting the need for measures to be placed that are practical and innovative in solving this cash issue as it has placed a lot of pressure on the police force to assure safety to such businesses as they contribute to the state economy as well. Some of the innovative strategies that have been implemented include the creation of armored tracks for marijuana business entities. The main functions of these transport system is in ensuring that funds are collected which is followed by the subsequent removal of marijuana residues from the money (Miller and Kuhns 66). Finally, the money is transport to the banks for depositing. While some police enforcers in the top ranks have viewed this option as promoting money laundering, some have considered it a good policy that will ensure the marijuana business owners are able to transport their money safely to banks and also solve the non-compliancy expressed by most financial institutions in dealing with them.

The third issue that has arisen from the cash only interaction that is synonymous with the marijuana business is that most criminals have targeted their business center (Møller 146). This reality has been validated by the Colorado law enforcement officials who have noticed this growing trend and have associated it to the large amounts of money that are kept within these centers awaiting cleaning and transportation to the respective banks of choice. The armored trunks deployed for transporting marijuana and the accrued cash have also been targeted by these criminal operating throughout various states (Lynne-Landsman, Livingston and Wagenaar 1505). This has posed as a great challenge for the law enforcers as they are unable to fully operate cordially with the business owners in tracing down the transportation routes. Additionally, there is also the issue of tracking paper trail which has been a substantial blockade for police in carrying out investigation of robberies and burglary. This is particularly true because the lack of a paper trail means to failure to determine the cash flow which, is one of the imperative elements that are investigated in such instances.

Marijuana-Industry Related Homelessness

According to the reports retrieved by Denver officials, following the legalization of marijuana, there has been an increment in the number of homeless people within the locality. Based on their findings, this influx of homeless juveniles and adults has been facilitated with the legalization of the drug which has since increased its availability within the region (Møller 138). For Denver, the issue of homelessness has been persistent as the police force surveys have observed an increase of this population with most of them belonging to the 18-26 year old bracket. The survey also points out that the increased influx of homeless people of this age group is primarily influenced with their search for livelihood in the marijuana industry that has significantly bloomed after its legalization in Denver. With most of these individuals having criminal records and felony charges, they have failed to secure any form of employment in the marijuana industry (Chu). Without any employment, many have resulted into marijuana addiction which has created a potentially threatening situation for the police as this population has infiltrated into the suburban neighborhoods. With most of the growing operations of marijuana located in the suburbia, this infiltration has increased hence becoming a concern for the police officer as they control recreational marijuana operations.

Distinguishing the Relevance of Marijuana Search Warrants

The primary effect that law enforcers have experienced from marijuana legalization is distinguishing the relevance of search warrants as well as their applicability because of the conflicting aspect that exists in terms of legalidsation and regulation of recreational and medical marijuana (Chu). According to some Colorado police officers interviewed, the main problem that exists in such situation is that it is quite hard to determine the probable cause of a warrant as the constitutional amendments fail to provide clarified information detailing on warrant acquisition as well as the fact that it also inhibits the police from accessing search warrants. Additionally, the issue with warrant issuance has also been considered counterproductive because juries have become support of defendants that have been arrested in possession of marijuana (Lynne-Landsman, Livingston and Wagenaar 1506). With such ambiguity and confusion, the police enforcers are unable to understand the legal landscape pertaining to this particular situation hence their efforts are hindered as the law itself has become an obstacle.

It is also important to note that with regards to seizure of marijuana, the police have faced a big problem in returning or seizing marijuana evidence. This is facilitated by the conflicting laws outlined by the federal state as regarding the same especially following the legalization of marijuana (Møller 133). There have also been several changes that have been implemented in the seizures policies that have further increased the conflict between the federal and state laws. For instance, despite the fact that some states have legalized marijuana, it is still considered federally illegal. Hence, there are instances whereby some defendants will have their marijuana returned to them following court ruling, and in some scenarios, they will be confiscated as per the ruling. With the .conflict ever present when dealing with marijuana possession and seizure, the law enforcers have found it rather difficult to determine the course of action in such predicaments hence compromising their oath of maintaining law and order.

Need to Replace or Retrain Drug Sniffing Canines

The drug sniffing canines that were formerly used for marijuana detection will have to be replaced due to the legislation of marijuana (Lynne-Landsman, Livingston and Wagenaar 1504). This means an introduction of conundrum for the police force as they will have to devise other modes of drug search. These canines serve a unique purpose in the police force primarily because they are trained to detect the location of marijuana and trail it which has aided the law enforcer in capturing drug dealers as well as seizing any illegal marijuana in their possession (Chu). With the state legalization of the drug, the law has failed to clearly at which situations should an officer search for drug (Németh and Ross 14). Consequently, in the event whereby a canine detects legal of marijuana in a public transport vehicle, the case can be dismissed even in the event whereby more lethal and illegal drugs were in the same location. This has affected the relation of the police officers and the public because they have to comply with policies such as asking the suspect whether they are in possession of any marijuana prior to conducting a drug search (Chu). It is important to note that these policies have presented major challenge for police departments that use canines for drug detection hence they have been forced to consider other modes of drug detection which exempts marijuana in order to comply with the state laws on marijuana legalization.

Difficulty in Controlling Gray Markets and Medical Marijuana Dealers

The major challenge that police enforcer have been faced with especially in states such as Colorado is ensuring that medical marijuana is not fed into the gray market by the care givers (Németh and Ross 16). As instructed in the amendment 20, care givers are expected to provide information concerning their cultivation operation as part of their registration process in the Marijuana Enforcement Division. However, in the recent times, police officers have noted that some of these operations are unregistered which has clearly made it difficult for them in terms of filling any charges against illegal growing operation (Lynne-Landsman, Livingston and Wagenaar 1500). According to the Colorado law enforcers, the caregivers have developed a tactic whereby they have various growing locations for their patients whom they registered. However, this has translated to the availability of excess amounts of untraceable marijuana which they have seemingly diverted into illegal drug markets such as the gray market. This has posed as a great challenge for the police officers as their measures on controlling such available marijuana is restricted and limited by the state laws.

Marijuana Tourism

The law enforcement agencies have been faced with the emergence of marijuana tourism which has promoted the illegal aspects of the business. According to the survey conducted, following the implementation of amendment 64, there has been an increased proliferation of this type of tourism from various states (Chu). For most, the main role for undertaking this is purchasing marijuana from states that have legalized the drug such as Colorado, Denver and many others. The findings indicate that visitors purchase marijuana approximating to quarter an ounce at various intervals with most of the drug operations occurring at ski resorts. On a yearly basis, the findings indicated that an approximated 2.54 tons of marijuana was sold to these tourists in 2012 with an expected growth of 4.4 and 5.0 metric tons by 2014 (Németh and Ross 19). This has affected the police department because of most of the tourists lack knowledge on the potency of the cannabis sativa drug hence they are faced with cases of drug overdoses and subsequent hospitalization. One of the main ways police departments have dealt with this particular challenge is requiring hotels and any other businesses dealing with tourists to have brochures or any other form of literature that educates on marijuana safety (Wong, Brady and Li n.p). For instance, the Colorado Police Department has taken the initiative of developing a marijuana safety literature that has been distributed in various marijuana outlets as a means of protecting these tourists.

Challenges faced in Field Tests

Law enforcers have faced the challenge of detecting and measuring the amount of marijuana used in offenders found driving under the influence of the drug (Mahindhoratep et al. 92). According to amendment 64, it is clearly stated that the use of recreational marijuana is treated with the same standards of alcohol drinking. Additionally, it also prohibits the use of marijuana in public localities. It is also important to note that under the same law, driving under the influence of marijuana is prohibited (Németh and Ross 7). Despite of these restrictions, the police officer in marijuana legal states have faced a serious issue as regards determining the legal limit of marijuana detected in an impaired driver when it has been combined with other drugs such as alcohol (Wong, Brady and Li n.p). This is especially after considering the fact that there is increased impairment in situations where marijuana is used in combination with alcohol. The main challenge in quantifying the amount of marijuana in a suspect’s blood have been the cost implications as one test which is inclusive of marijuana as well as alcohol costs as total of $250 (Mahindhoratep et al. 95). With this cost implication and limited government funding, the police departments have been limited in conducting such tests which is detrimental as it encouragers more motorists to drive while impaired.


Marijuana legalization is a serious and complex issue which has various unprecedented consequences that have challenged various police department in different states. With this in mind, it is clear that it is necessary for there to be more specificity and clarity in developing stiffer sanctions dealing with violation of marijuana operation policies in order to aid law enforcers in reducing the availability of free marijuana that has led to the subsequent growth of gray and clack markets. This step is important in ensuring that the police are able to protect the public from consequences of marijuana legalization.


Works Cited

Chu, Yu-Wei. “Medical Marijuana Laws And Illegal Marijuana Use”. SSRN Electronic Journal n. pag. Web.

Hammer, Michael. “Patients, Police, And Care Providers: The Cultural Dimension Of Medical Marijuana Implementation”. SSRN Electronic Journal n. pag. Web.

Harper, Sam, Erin C. Strumpf, and Jay S. Kaufman. “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Increase Marijuana Use? Replication Study And Extension”. Annals of Epidemiology 22.3 (2012): 207-212. Web.

Lynne-Landsman, Sarah D., Melvin D. Livingston, and Alexander C. Wagenaar. “Effects Of State Medical Marijuana Laws On Adolescent Marijuana Use”. Am J Public Health 103.8 (2013): 1500-1506. Web.

Mahindhoratep, Tiao Saysouda et al. “Police Custody Following Driving Under The Influence Of Cannabis: A Prospective Study”. Forensic Science International 231.1-3 (2013): 92-97. Web.

Mahindhoratep, Tiao Saysouda et al. “Police Custody Following Driving Under The Influence Of Cannabis: A Prospective Study”. Forensic Science International 231.1-3 (2013): 92-97. Web.

Miller, R. N., and J. B. Kuhns. “Exploring The Impact Of Medical Marijuana Laws On The Validity Of Self-Reported Marijuana Use Among Juvenile Arrestees Over Time”. Criminal Justice Policy Review 23.1 (2011): 40-66. Web.

Møller, Kim. “Policy Displacement And Disparate Sanctioning From Policing Cannabis In Denmark”. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention 11.2 (2010): 135-150. Web.

Németh, Jeremy, and Eric Ross. “Planning For Marijuana: The Cannabis Conundrum”. Journal of the American Planning Association 80.1 (2014): 6-20. Web.

Pacula, Rosalie L. et al. “Assessing The Effects Of Medical Marijuana Laws On Marijuana Use: The Devil Is In The Details”. J. Pol. Anal. Manage. 34.1 (2014): 7-31. Web.

Wong, Kristin, Joanne E Brady, and Guohua Li. “Establishing Legal Limits For Driving Under The Influence Of Marijuana”. Inj. Epidemiol. 1.1 (2014): n. pag. Web.

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