By Jim Camden

Looking into the effects of legalized marijuana, Washington State University researchers discovered some surprising things.

They turned up unintended consequences, found gaps in the data and came up with suggestions for law enforcement agencies dealing with a possible sea change in drug use.

They couldn’t definitively settle the debate on whether legalizing marijuana has led to more crime or less crime. But in talking to law enforcement officers, researchers were told legalizing marijuana was affecting their work in ways no one expected, including their interactions with K-9s and informants.

Some departments had to get new drug-detection canines because the dogs they had were trained to sniff out marijuana, said David Makin, of the WSU Criminal Justice Department and one of the principal investigators of the research. Some of the retired dogs got new jobs with school security officers.

Some drug units also complained about a loss of a key avenue to acquire an important investigatory tool: confidential informants.

“They said, ‘Marijuana was how we got CIs,’ ” Makin said during a presentation last week of the research to law enforcement groups in Olympia.

Someone facing a marijuana charge could be convinced to become a confidential informant and provide information leading to arrests higher up the illegal drug supply chain.

With a grant from the National Institute of Justice, WSU researchers set out to determine how law enforcement was handling crime before and after marijuana was legalized, and how that change in the law affected crime. It wasn’t an easy task.

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