Marijuana policy questions
Medical use of marijuana
This topic is covered in Immediate Action
For a more detailed discussion, see: "Are Texans Being Denied Access to a Vital Medicine? A Scientific Assessment of Marijuana"
Decriminalization Vs. Legalization
A system that punishes offenses by means other than prison. Fines for most traffic violations are an example. In relation to drugs, it is normally limited to possession (and sometimes growth) of small amounts (often around one ounce) and somtimes to sale of equally small amounts to adults. It is also often limited to marijuana among the illegal drugs.
There is another distinction possible between de jure decriminalization, which entails an amendment to criminal legislation, and de facto decriminalization, which involves an administrative decision not to prosecute acts that nonetheless remain subject to arrest and imprisonment under the law. Some cities have simply decided de facto to specify that enforcement of some marijuana laws is the "lowest priority" for their police forces.
A system that allows the use and sale of drugs to adults under a system of regulation such as pertains to alcohol or perhaps involving licenses. Many suggest there would be a ban on advertising and public use. If the alcohol model prevailed, different states might vary the regulatory structure and legality might also be limited by local option to specific areas within a state.
Marijuana decriminalization - US history
Oregon decriminalized marijuana in 1973 and about 10 other states followed. The only U.S. federal study ever to compare marijuana use patterns, among decriminalized states and those that have not, found:
"Decriminalization has had virtually no effect on either marijuana use or on related attitudes about marijuana use among young people."
-- "Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980," Monitoring the Future, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1981.
Similarly, various states in Australia have decriminalized while others did not. No variance in use patterns has been found between those which do and do not decriminalize according to a two year study released in 1998 by the Drug and Alcohol Council of South Australia.
It is common for commissions which have studied the problem to recommend decriminalization rather than "legalization." We think that some may sincerely think this best but we suspect that most were going only as far as they believed the social and political landscape would allow.
President Nixon's 1972 commission opted for decriminalization but made it clear that legalization was rejected because:
" ... marihuana use may be a fad which, if not institutionalized, will recede substantially in time.
"If marihuana smoking were an already ingrained part of our culture, this objection would be dispelled.
" ... we strongly recommend that our successor policy planners, at an appropriate time in the future, review the following factors to determine whether an altered social policy is in order: the state of public opinion, the extent to which members of the society continue to use the drug, the developing scientific knowledge about the effects and social impact of use of the drug ... "
Conditions are indeed different and the 1972 reservations are being resolved in the direction of legalization. This is an obvious subject for another commission to study.
Decriminalization : Major problems
* It leaves the illegal supplier in place.
* It still entails law enforcement costs.
Some indications from decriminalization trials in England are that many police are more willing to make stops when they know the offender won't go to prison. There is no indication that this has decreased use. It's a small source of revenue, but one unlikely to compensate for wasted police time and inconsequential when compared to potential sales taxes.
* It deprives the state of tax revenues.
Potential revenue could be used for tax relief, education or treatment.
* It cannot make much difference in use.
Above we saw that where decriminalization took place, the removal of what many thought was a deterrent had no apparent effect on use or attitudes. It is a shorter step in terms of theoretical deterrence to move to legalization. We stress that if some 62% have tried marijuana by age 22, there's very little room for an increase of any consequence.
* It sustains the hypocrisy inherent in the double standard for alcohol.