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Decriminalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons

Introduction

Several countries throughout the world are working to decriminalize or legalize less harmful drugs such as cannabis (marijuana). It has been suggested, and in some cases demonstrated, that legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana can help to reduce violent crimes and significantly decrease the number of people incarcerated for drug use which would allow more individuals to remain contributing members of society. It would free up funds and law-enforcement manpower to instead combat the more urgent societal issues. Although not legal in the Netherlands, cannabis is openly tolerated and can be both purchased and consumed in one of several Amsterdam ‘coffee houses.’ Inexplicably, the city has not been thrown into anarchy which, evidently, is what the opponents of cannabis legalization are afraid of. The evidence demonstrates that legalizing cannabis for medicinal in addition to general purposes would prove a benefit to society, evidence which is well-known throughout the scientific, political and public arena but this collective knowledge has yet to be acted upon. This discussion will examine the issue of legalization drawing from European and American experiences.

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A report in The Economist expressly states concerns regarding a rising drug-using and dependent population if these drugs should be made more available. While acknowledging that the price of drugs is artificially high due to the difficulties of circumventing the law, authors of this report indicate that it is precise because of the high cost and difficulty to obtain that prevents more individuals from experimenting with them, thus becoming addicted, either physically or psychologically. Although these arguments can also be made for other substances that are currently legal, voters have argued that it is not necessary to bring in more potentially harmful substances into legal circulation at this time. To support the argument in favor of legalization, authors pull in the theories of John Stuart Mill, who espoused that adult citizens should have the right to make their own choices regarding whether or not to participate in a harmful activity as long as it does no harm to others, a theory that has been largely ignored in the decisions regarding alcohol and tobacco, but not cannabis. (“Case for Legalisation,” 2001)

An Inconsistent System

Yes Here No There

Eleven states allow the use of marijuana for medicinal use, Rhode Island the most recent joining California, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Washington and, Vermont and Maine. Maine just recently voted to add to the number of marijuana dispensaries throughout the state and allowable conditions for patients to obtain it. Laws enacted by the federal government supersede those of the states but the Obama administration has said it will not act on those laws in states where medical marijuana is legal. (Schweitzer, 2005). Most Americans are not against the medicinal use of marijuana and states are legalizing the practice. However, marijuana remains against federal law which generally translates to stiff sentences if caught without a prescription. The U.S. government has declared a total prohibition of Marijuana, a method that is one of the most common policies utilized but has evidently not succeeded as intended. This practice has not eliminated drug traffic. It has, however, altered the arrangement of supply and demand by forcing the illegality of this market.

Negative Effects

Some negative social aspects can be attributed to both legal and illegal drug use. The acquisition of drugs in the illegal market almost certainly creates more negative effects than would its distribution under a legalized system. The additional social ills associated with the illegal drug trade include violence with no legal recourse and the criminalization of those who purchase in the illegal market, crowding prisons and resulting in the early release of violent criminals, both a revenue draining reality. The illegal drug trade also increases health care costs for all as there are no regulations regarding the strength and quality of illegal drugs. Prohibition has probably reduced the scope of drug distribution but has also ensured negative economic effects. Finding the balance between these two effects is one of the key considerations in the welfare analysis of drug policy. (“Case for Legalisation,” 2001) Marijuana has been proven to be medically beneficial for various conditions such as anorexia and ulcerative colitis in addition to alleviating symptoms associated with cancer. “Marijuana cigarettes have been used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and research has shown that THC is more quickly absorbed from marijuana smoke than from an oral preparation.” (NCI, 2000) Prohibition makes criminals of those who are needlessly suffering without access to it.

From Country to Country

Most European nations separate cannabis from the harder drugs in their laws and discussions but the United States generally does not. The U.S. continues to be heavily engaged in its ‘war on drugs’, which began in the 1970s and was accelerated by President Reagan in the 1980s. While cannabis remains illegal in the UK, it is no longer mandatory that casual users of the drug must be arrested when caught. Instead, an arrest can be detained until exacerbating circumstances arise, such as the use of the drug in the presence of minors. The U.K. system is somewhere between the more relaxed laws of The Netherlands and the stricter laws of the U.S. but is still among the harshest in Europe. Though cannabis is technically illegal to possess and sell in both nations, casual users in the U.S. face long prison sentences. By contrast, in The Netherlands, individuals over the age of 18 who smoke it discretely are not arrested and possession of five grams or the cultivation of fewer than five plants is not prosecuted. In addition, there are several coffee shops and cafes that are licensed to sell cannabis within their shops and are permitted to hold up to 100 grams behind their counter and another 500 grams in storage. A law passed in 2003 also permits doctors to prescribe marijuana for medicinal use through local pharmacies. (Coughlin, 2003)

No Harm Revisited

Research has provided evidence to suggest that people who use drugs are more prone than nonusers to commit crimes. It also confirms the fact that those arrested were commonly under the influence of a drug at the time they committed their offense and that the trade of drugs produces violence. However, this research remains ambiguous and ill-defined and therefore misleading in its conclusions. Assessing the characteristics and degree of the influences that drugs have on criminal activity requires that dependable information about the offense and the offender is presented and that definitions are consistent. However, because of inconsistent and problematical data, it is impracticable to access quantitatively to what extent that drugs encourage the incidence of crime. The association between alcohol and violence, according to various studies, epitomizes a correlation that is confounded by other dynamics such as socio-demographic and personality characteristics. A similar analysis of cannabis use and its associated delinquency establishes that people who used marijuana were more likely than those who did not to simultaneously engage in non-violent delinquency. However, “prior marijuana use did not increase the risk of later violent or non-violent delinquency.” (Derzon, 1999) The majority of people who use marijuana, both adult and youth, do not become habitual, daily users nor are they involved in criminal behaviors that are related to the use of drugs. Alcohol use by young teenagers was, however, an indicator of violent behavior later in life. Marijuana use was unrelated to violent activities. It is a fallacy to suggest that teenagers commit crimes at a higher rate simply to support a cannabis habit.

Decriminalization

Decriminalization implies different meanings to different people. To some, it means simply legalization which takes the profit, thus the crime out of the drug trade. One interpretation involves three steps. The first is to make drugs such as cannabis legal under restricted circumstances, but not as controlled as it is now. Secondly, sound reasoning should prevail in substance abuse policies. The third aspect is to manage our tax money more wisely and discontinue wasting billions of dollars on criminal law enforcement techniques. Instead, these funds should be diverted into treatment and abuse prevention. Varying degrees of decriminalization are often confused with total legalization. Alcohol is legal, for example, but it is not legal to operate a car under its influence or to sell it to those less than 21 years of age. (Nadelmann, 1990)

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Conclusion

The prohibition approach taken by countries such as the United States has led to an astronomical increase in the rates of crime and numbers of incarcerated individuals as a result while having little to no impact upon the actual availability and usage rates within the country’s borders. The Netherlands allows for cafes and coffee houses with special licensing permits to distribute marijuana. Company employees are not fired for having inhaled at lunch but are able to readily find counselors if they find they have become psychologically addicted to marijuana’s effects. However, the choice is not simply a black and white issue of whether or not to decriminalize. While drug laws are relaxed regarding Class C narcotics in England and the Netherlands, they still remain against the law. The prohibition of marijuana makes little sense and disallowing the medicinal use to cancer patients living every day with agonizing pain and glaucoma patients who depend on marijuana to see better, for example, should be unthinkable in a civilized society.

Works Cited

“Cannibis Laws Eased by Blunkett.” (2002). BBC News.

“Case for Legalisation, The.” (2001). The Economist.

Coughlin, Geraldine. (2003). “Dutch to Prescribe Cannibis.” BBC News.

Derzon, James H. & Lipsey, Mark W. (1999). “A Synthesis of the Relationship of Marijuana Use with Delinquent and Problem Behaviors.” School Psychology International. Vol. 20 pp. 57–68.

Nadelmann, Ethan. (1990). “Should Some Illegal Drugs be Legalized?” Science and Technology. Vol. 6 pp. 43-46.

Schweitzer, Sarah. (2005) “R.I. may allow medical marijuana” The Boston Globe.

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National Cancer Institute. (2000). “Marijuana Use in Supportive Care for Cancer Patients” Fact Sheet. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 14). Decriminalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/decriminalizing-marijuana-pros-and-cons/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 14). Decriminalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons. https://studycorgi.com/decriminalizing-marijuana-pros-and-cons/

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1. StudyCorgi. "Decriminalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/decriminalizing-marijuana-pros-and-cons/.


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StudyCorgi. "Decriminalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/decriminalizing-marijuana-pros-and-cons/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Decriminalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/decriminalizing-marijuana-pros-and-cons/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Decriminalizing Marijuana: Pros and Cons'. 14 November.

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