Department of Sociology

Document Type



Drug policy reform is one of the major political issues facing America today. Bipartisan majorities of Americans support reform, a fact reflected in several substantial changes to drug policy in recent years. One of the most significant of these changes is marijuana legalization. The legalization of marijuana has been associated with numerous impacts. Some of these impacts have been by design whereas others have not. For instance, the economic impacts of legalization were frequently used as an argument in favor of reform, while certain impacts for law enforcement have been unintended. The current work examines the potential for drug policy reforms such as marijuana legalization to be associated with unintended or unanticipated outcomes through three separate studies, each of which examines a specific impact of marijuana legalization. First, the emergent urban-centric nature of the legal marijuana industry is explored using county-level data from Colorado. While marijuana reform may be associated with many outcomes, the results of this analysis suggest that those outcomes may be concentrated in urban areas. Secondly, the process of marijuana gentrification is examined relative to dispensary placement in Colorado. Building on prior research that has examined marijuana gentrification in commercial contexts, this study suggests that marijuana dispensaries may be associated with gentrification in residential contexts as well, although this relationship may be moderated by the type of dispensary (i.e., medical/recreational) and the geographic context (i.e., metropolitan/nonmetropolitan) in which it operates. Finally, this work tests the assertion of reform advocates that legalization would give police more time to focus on other law enforcement responsibilities through a survey of police officers in early-legalizing states. Results demonstrate noteworthy variation in the experience of officers and indicate that officer perceptions of other impacts of legalization (e.g., an increase in marijuana DWI) significantly impact perceptions of additional time. Taken together, the results of these three studies demonstrate the potential for drug reforms to be associated with unintended or unanticipated outcomes. The results of this work have substantial implications for policymakers and reform proponents as drug policy reforms such as marijuana are enacted in further jurisdictions.



Committee Chair

Slack, Tim

Available for download on Saturday, April 03, 2027