Law enforcement practices in the first two states in U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana

Terra Wiens, Kathleen M Lenk, Lindsey E.A. Fabian, Darin J Erickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: There is a lack of research regarding law enforcement practices where recreational marijuana sales are legal. Given that legalization of recreational marijuana is expanding, lessons learned from areas with existing legalization can help inform future practices. This pilot study is an evaluation of enforcement of marijuana laws in the first two states in the U.S. to legalize sales of recreational marijuana, Colorado and Washington, several years post legalization. Methods: We surveyed a random sample of local law enforcement agencies in the two states (25 agencies per state). We also attempted to survey the state-level marijuana enforcement agency but only Washington responded. Surveys focused on youth marijuana use, youth access to marijuana, and impaired driving but included other topics. Chi-square tests assessed differences between states (p <.05). Results: All local agencies reported underage use was somewhat or very common in their jurisdictions. Thirty percent of local agencies conducted enforcement targeting underage use/possession. Twenty percent of agencies overall conducted underage compliance checks at licensed stores, with more agencies conducting checks in Colorado (32%) than Washington (8%; p =.03). Most agencies in both states reported marijuana-impaired driving was somewhat or very common in their jurisdictions. One local agency in each state specifically targeted marijuana-impaired driving. The state-level agency in Washington reported that their agency is the one primarily responsible for enforcing marijuana retail laws and they conducted routine underage compliance checks at all licensed marijuana stores three times per year. Conclusion: Our findings indicate that marijuana enforcement can be improved regarding sales/provision to underage youth and impaired driving in these states, particularly given that underage use and impaired driving are perceived to be common. Larger studies with additional jurisdictions and types of agencies (e.g., highway patrol) are warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-43
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by an internal grant from the University of Minnesota (PI: Darin Erickson, PhD).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier B.V.


  • Enforcement
  • Legalization
  • Marijuana


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