WASHINGTON (July 13, 2022) –– In a new paper, R Street Institute Senior Fellow Christi Smith and Policy Director Jillian Snider review the potential benefits of marijuana legalization for law enforcement in context of the history of prohibition and current efforts toward legalization.

Scientific evidence—both historical and recent—has demonstrated that cannabis has a low risk of abuse and dependence, as well as useful medical applications. The current federal scheduling of the substance prevents necessary research on further potential benefits, and creates a hazy regulatory environment that allows illegal markets to flourish.

“Smart, thoughtful cannabis legalization that is attuned to the demands of the market and individual needs has the capacity to drastically improve our communities and their interactions with law enforcement,” said Smith and Snider. “Although individual lawmakers, the authors of this paper and criminal justice professionals may be personally or morally opposed to legalization, from a policy perspective, prohibition is not only no longer a tenable solution—it is contrary to the goals of public safety,” they added.

Legalization is also increasingly supported by law enforcement, with two-thirds of police officers supporting medical or recreational cannabis. The lack of consistency in the legal status of cannabis has created a confusing environment for law enforcement, and all other stakeholders, to operate within. The lack of clear federal standards on cannabis causes illegal underground markets to flourish and diverts police resources away from more substantial threats to public safety.

As the nation faces a substantial rise in violent crime and homicide, law enforcement should not be distracted with low-level, nonviolent cannabis offenses or stuck in a gray zone of compliance confusion due to a lack of federal action.

  1. The legalization of cannabis has the potential to reduce negative police interactions, improve police-community relations and make the jobs of law enforcement officers less dangerous, which enhances public safety.
  2. The legalization and appropriate regulation of cannabis can disrupt and dissolve illegal-market access to cannabis. Well-regulated cannabis industries reduce reliance on illegal markets that are inherently associated with violence and homicide.
  3. The legalization of cannabis has the potential to allow substantial police resources, formerly dedicated to prohibition enforcement, to be allocated to the nationwide increases in violent crimes and homicide.

Download a one-page summary of the report here.

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