The Long Arm of the Legislative Process as a Tool for Institutional Change

This might be my naivete showing, but I approach research from the perspective of policy.  When I interact with research, I do so with the end game NOT being, “What journal should this go to?” But rather, “How can this be used to solve a problem?” This approach broadly encapsulates why we go into research- most of are really just trying to make the world a “better” place, as often our new found “knowledge” is conceptualized in terms of policy.  As in, “With this new knowledge, what types of policy might improve the lot of ______ (drug users, parents, workers, children, retirees, tax-payers, etc.)?”

drug dogs

That said, I am always intrigued when the elegant, sweeping ship of policy runs aground the rocky shores of reality.  Particularly so when the policy is the product of impassioned and drawn out machinations of our political process through debate, negotiations, and compromise. The latest example comes from Colorado and Washington, which both moved to legalize marijuana last year.
Recent articles from The Seattle Times and NPR are fostering a new intellectual conversation about the ramifications surrounding legalization of marijuana.  In fact, Colorado and Washington provide elegant examples of how changes in one societal institution (law enforcement) are forced by changes in other entities (the legislative branches of government).
The issue is the how vehicles are searched for narcotics.  Prior to the decriminalization of marijuana, its scent was used by law enforcement officers to help drug-sniffing dogs to identify marijuana.  Currently, dogs who have been trained to recognize its scent are being retrained to Not alert on it in Washington and Colorado, although dogs apparently never unlearn the scent.  For a lot of users, this wont be a problem. But for people who use multiple types of drugs, this could be problematic.  What happens when a dog alerts that there are narcotics in a vehicle and a search by the law enforcement officer finds a kilogram of marijuana and a small amount of another drug? Is it even possible to know what drug a canine officer is alerting on?  Further, the federal government is wary of Colorado and Washington  pot spreading to other states next year (when growers can start gorwing their own product).  How can the disbursement of Washington and Colorado marijuana be prevented from spreading behind state borders, given that it’s not illegal to have it in one’s vehicle? Regardless, it seems that most solutions to these issues are going to involve the courts.

Author: Jessica Bishop-Royse

Jessica Bishop-Royse is the SSRC’s Senior Research Methodologist. Her areas of interest include: health disparities, demography, crime, methods, and statistics. She often finds herself navigating the fields of sociology, demography, epidemiology, medicine, public health, and policy. She was broadly trained in data collection, Stata, quantitative research methodology, as well as statistics. She has experience with multi-level analyses, survival analyses, and multivariate regression. Outside of the work context, Jessi is interested in writing, reading, travel, photography, and sport.

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