Decriminalization as Police Reform

Ohio State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 683

Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, No. 42, February 2022

19 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2022 Last revised: 1 Mar 2022

See all articles by Marcus Brown

Marcus Brown

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: February 11, 2022

Abstract

Proponents of drug decriminalization typically emphasize the reform’s utilitarian potential to reverse mass incarceration trends, reduce racial disparities within the justice system, and minimize the economic costs associated with drug enforcement. However, decriminalization has an additional, underappreciated potential to shift drug war-centered policing practices. This article details how recent decriminalization legislation in New York, Oregon, and Colorado limits police authority to expand stops, conduct searches and make arrests for drug possession. It also describes how drug decriminalization reduces police department incentives to conduct pretextual stops and militarize its personnel and divisions. Thus, drug decriminalization should also be understood as a vital tool in limiting intrusive policing practices. Including this perspective amongst the arguments for drug decriminalization strengthens the potential for substantive reform and may increase support for further legislation.

Keywords: Drug laws, drug decriminalization, drug legalization, police reform, pretextual stops, police militarization

Suggested Citation

Brown, Marcus, Decriminalization as Police Reform (February 11, 2022). Ohio State Legal Studies Research Paper No. 683, Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, No. 42, February 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4032811 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4032811

Marcus Brown (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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