The Criminal Justice System and More Lenient Drug Policy

Three Case Studies on California's Changes to How Its Criminal Justice System Addresses Drug Use

by Gabriel Weinberger

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The nation's reliance on incarceration appears to have reached a peak a few years ago and there is a movement towards a major de-carceration initiative that will be driven by local jurisdictions. Current research must be focused on learning from the early wave of de-carceration experiments, which are mostly associated to drug-related crimes, to provide implications for future policymaking.

This dissertation deals with the implementation, at the local level, of various major changes to California's criminal justice system. These changes include liberalization of marijuana policies, Public Safety Realignment, and Proposition 47. The theme behind these changes has been a change in how the criminal justice system sanctions drug use. This dissertation explores an important question from each policy that can guide future policy. The first chapter explores whether localities that allowed for regulated dispensaries that sell medical marijuana to operate experienced an increase in crime rates. The second chapter describes how Public Safety Realignment changed the landscape for how social services are provided through the criminal justice system, detailing the effect on counties by using Los Angeles as a case study. Finally, the third chapter uses Los Angeles as a case study to answer whether community supervision is an adequate mechanism for engaging individuals with substance use disorder treatment.

Overall, the dissertation suggests that there may be collateral consequences from more liberal policies but that these can be addressed outside of the scope of the criminal justice system. In the context of regulating the supply of marijuana, a formerly illicit drug in California, I find that it did not result in a wave of higher crime rates. Finally, a major implication from this dissertation is that further work is required to serve the population that is affected by policies that reduce the use of incarceration for drug-related crimes. Local governments need to continue to address low-level crime caused by problematic drug use by improving their systems for providing social services without settling for using the lever of the criminal justice system.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    High on Crime? Exploring the Effects of Marijuana Dispensary Laws on Crime in California Counties

  • Chapter Two

    Laying a Foundation for Studying County Social Services Provision in the Context of California's Criminal Justice System Reforms

  • Chapter Three

    Chapter 3: Does Community Supervision Lead to More Substance Use Treatment Engagement? A Case Study from Los Angeles

  • Appendix A.1

    Evidence that timing of resentencing adjudications was exogenous

  • Appendix A.2

    More information on the retrospective cohort created

  • Appendix A.3

    Proposition 47

  • Appendix A.4

    Fixed Effects OLS Regression

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in December 2018 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Rosalie Pacula (Chair), Priscilla Hunt, Sarah Hunter, and Tina Kim (outside reader).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

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