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Decriminalization of Marijuana: Advantages and Disadvantages

Today, the problem of marijuana overuse affects different countries around the world. Although marijuana has always served for medical purposes, for example, as a painkiller, nowadays, the results of its use are far from positive. It is a widespread object of sale in the criminal world, and it may lead to addiction-related consequences. Since the health and overall well-being of citizens are the top priorities of the authorities, countries all over the world struggle to find a solution to the issue. However, the attitude towards the subject has changed in comparison to the last century, and more people no longer consider marijuana a danger.

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It is hard to deny that integrated measures are taken to influence the marijuana situation comprehensively. Some of these actions include education of the community about the dangers of marijuana addiction, improvements in the medical sphere, and managing laws connected to the issue. This research paper is focused on the legal aspect of the problem – the drug-related legislation, namely the decriminalization of marijuana. Through the analysis of real-life cases and laws, all significant advantages and disadvantages of this measure will be analyzed in detail.

It is proven that the attitude of the general public and government towards the dangers of marijuana use has changed over time. In the 1930s, it was considered more dangerous than other addiction-causing drugs (Marion & Hill, 2019, p. 1). However, today, many people believe that marijuana is a “safe substance for use” (Marion & Hill, 2019, p. 1). According to modern views, this drug has fewer negative effects than alcohol and tobacco, and it positively influences the psychological state of an individual, as well as reduces physical distress (Marion & Hill, 2019). As a result, more people started to support the idea of making marijuana legal or at least changing the possible drug-related penalties to administrative.

Decriminalization of marijuana means that using, selling, or possessing marijuana are non-criminal offenses and are followed by corresponding punishments. The opinion of the general public about the issue has been studied in different periods. According to the statistics, in 1969, only 12% of the U.S. citizens stood for the idea of marijuana legalization, while in 2013, the number of supporters reached 58% (Marion & Hill, 2019, p. 2). The ideas of legalization or decriminalization are mostly based on the positive medical effects of the drug, as well as economic issues. Even though the number of supporters is gradually increasing, there are still debates about the negative consequences of this measure. Two real-life cases of marijuana decriminalization will be analyzed further to illustrate the problem.

Decriminalization of Marijuana in Jamaica

To receive more reliable results about the marijuana issue, it would be appropriate to consider the case of a country that has always been notorious for its excessive spread of the substance. Jamaica is a state where the cultivation and selling of marijuana became decriminalized in 2015 (Spencer & Strobl, 2019, p. 1). It is possible to suggest that the reasons for such measures in Jamaica were not only connected with the medical or economic issues but also with the cultural significance of the drug. Historically, smoking marijuana has been an essential part of Jamaican culture and even served as a ritual, and consequently, the majority of the country’s population moved towards its decriminalization.

However, despite the significant number of supporters, many researchers emphasized the negative consequences of free marijuana use. For example, the decriminalization of marijuana in Jamaica increases interest among young people and those who try the drug for the first time (Spencer & Strobl, 2019). Another argument is that decriminalization may lead to the more frequent use of the drug, and the population may substitute tobacco or alcohol consumption with marijuana (Spencer & Strobl, 2019).

The researchers concluded that decriminalization of marijuana has a positive correlation with the degree of its use; moreover, adverse side effects of the drug are likely to lead to further healthcare expenses for Jamaican citizens (Spencer & Strobl, 2019). Therefore, it is advised to develop prevention programs on the school and university levels to stop the spread of the drug among young people.

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The Situation in the U.S.: Prince George’s County, MA

The attitudes towards the decriminalization of marijuana in the U.S. are ambiguous, as different states have separate legislation concerning the matter. According to recent statistics, “34 states as well as Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands” decriminalized the use of the drug (Kozlowski et al., 2019, p. 110). In comparison to Jamaica, where marijuana has been legalized partly because of its cultural significance, legal measures in the U.S. are mostly taken on the basis of the medical use of the drug or crime-related reasons.

Prince George’s County is the place where the recent marijuana-related legislation study has been conducted. Attracted by the unique jurisdiction of the region and the peculiarities of its demography, the researchers examined the influence of marijuana decriminalization on the overall crime situation in the county. According to their study, the goal of these legal reforms was to reduce the number of punishments for the marijuana-related offense, which is not considered severe in the region (Kozlowski et al., 2019). Such measures would allow the police to pay attention to more important issues.

The researchers found out that the results of marijuana decriminalization are controversial. They state that the “changing arrest policies for low-quantity marijuana possession led to increases in enforcement for other low-level misdemeanor offenses of such measures” (Kozlowski et al., 2019, p. 122). At the same time, the situation in the county was also characterized by “the decline in misdemeanor arrests and citations” (Kozlowski et al., 2019, p. 117).

In addition, their study suggested that “possession of fewer than 10 grams of marijuana was not a significant subset of all marijuana possession arrests” (Kozlowski et al., 2019, p. 117). In general, the researchers confirm that the decriminalization of marijuana can affect the overall crime situation in the county and the state, as the police officers could reallocate their resources to other kinds of crimes.

Marijuana Decriminalization Laws: Examples

The two cases of marijuana decriminalization demonstrate that the reasons and consequences of such changes in legislation may vary depending on the country and the overall drug-related situation. The state of Illinois, for example, has recently reduced the penalties connected with the possession of marijuana. According to the official documents, the possession of small amounts of the drug is considered a civil offense, and small fines for its storage are imposed (Cannabis Control Act, 2019). To be precise, the law suggests that “not more than 10 grams of any substance containing cannabis is guilty of a civil law violation punishable by a minimum fine of $100 and a maximum fine of $200” (Cannabis Control Act, 2019, para. 3). As it is possible to see, marijuana use and possession in the state are not fully legalized, but the offense no longer belongs to severe crimes.

Even though marijuana is highly widespread in Jamaica, it is not totally legalized there as well. According to the Dangerous Drugs Act amendments of 2015, “possession of 2 ounces or less of ganja is no longer an offense for which one can be arrested, charged and have to go to court” (Ministry of Justice, 2015, p. 2). At the same time, the possession of such amounts of the drug is followed by administrative penalties (Ministry of Justice, 2015, p. 2). The government of the country also emphasized specific cases, in which the said penalties are not implemented (Ministry of Justice, 2015). Such exceptions include the ritual, medical, or therapeutic use of the drug or the use for scientific purposes.

In general, the authorities of both Jamaica and the state of Illinois considered the issue of marijuana decriminalization from different points of view. They took necessary measures according to the overall health condition of its citizens, cultural peculiarities of the country, the crime situation, and other factors. As it is possible to conclude, the laws concerning marijuana-related cases vary in different countries and depend on multiple aspects.

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Conclusion

The attitudes towards the problem of marijuana overuse have changed. Today, in comparison to the 20th century, more people stand for the idea of marijuana legalization or mitigating drug-related penalties. Therefore, decriminalization of the drug has become common in many countries of the world or different parts of a single country (in the case of the U.S.). However, the real-life examples of various countries demonstrate that there can be both advantages and disadvantages of marijuana decriminalization.

Such measures may simplify the work of police forces that need to pay attention to more serious crimes like murders. Decriminalization can also affect the federal budget in a positive way, as less money would be spent on imposing more severe punishments. Moreover, this legislation provides people with better access to drugs for medical purposes. At the same time, the less severe penalties for the use, selling, or possessing of marijuana can lead to its spread among young people, and the drug can become a substitution for alcohol or tobacco. Therefore, the authorities of all countries need to consider the overall situation in different spheres of life and to manage their drug-related legislation consequently.

References

Cannabis Control Act. Publ. L. No. 101-27, 720 ILCS 550/4 (2019). Web.

Kozlowski, M., Glazener, E., Mitchell, J.A., Lynch, J.P., & Smith, J. (2019). Decriminalization and depenalization of marijuana possession: A case study of enforcement outcomes in Prince George’s County. Criminology, Criminal Justice, Law & Society, 20(2), 109-127.

Marion, N.E., & Hill, J.B. (2019). Marijuana 360: Differing perspectives on legalization. Rowman & Littlefield.

Ministry of Justice. (2015). Fact sheet prepared by the Ministry of Justice on the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015. Web.

Spencer, N., & Strobl, E. (2020). The impact of decriminalization on marijuana and alcohol consumption in Jamaica. Health Policy and Planning, 35(2), 180-185.

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