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Critical Comments on the Legalization of Marijuana Essay

Updated August 9, 2022

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Critical Comments on the Legalization of Marijuana Essay essay

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As I’m sure you’re aware, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ actions have ultimately been an attempt to bring back previous era prohibition policies such as those that were instituted under the presidencies of Nixon and Bush. Amongst these policies include his termination of the US policy which allowed states to control the legal sale of marijuana without federal interference, rather than allowing for federal prosecutors the ability to intervene. This transition back to previous era antimarijuana legislation has been met with some support and many criticisms. I’d simply like to point out the most significant of those criticisms, which I feel are important for you to look into to formulate an opinion for yourself based on the data presented. First and foremost, I believe it is important to take a look at the high cost that imprisonment bears for individuals who have been arrested for marijuana-related violations.

The War on Drugs, which was created and fought for by the Nixon and Bush administrations, has cost taxpayers trillions of dollars according to the Drug Policy Alliance (Making Economic Sense). Many have argued that the money being spent on imprisonment would be better allocated to rehabilitation to help ensure these individuals do not turn back to drugs. This way, we are not continually funding their confinement. Additionally, proceeding with prevention efforts ensures we may never have to incarcerate an individual for drug use in the first place. One of the second most important criticisms of these prohibition policies which have been enacted and proposed is their contribution to the rise of the black market, which comes with many dangers of its own. Prohibition policies create this market amongst individuals who seek to use illegal substances. Drugs being sold on the black market are not regulated the same way that legal drugs are, meaning there is no way to control the quality of the drugs being pushed out. This means people can obtain adulterated substances or substances that are manufactured incorrectly.

The War on Drugs led to punitive controls being placed over society as well. Harder punitive controls manifested the belief that law enforcement could be used as a deterrent for drug abuse, while softer punitive controls suggested that a lack or absence of enforcement would regulate the participation in a certain activity such as drug consumption. According to the research of Erich Goode, the punitive controls were observed to have no measurable effect on an individual’s choice to consume a drug or not (Goode, 2015). Given this information, it is effective to say that the War on Drugs is not a powerful enough deterrent to get individuals to abstain from using drugs, and that different approaches need to be taken if the goal is to ultimately reduce individual drug consumption rates rather than simply increasing our ever-growing incarceration rate.

Although not all of the past measures for achieving a reduction in drug abuse in the United States have been successful, that does not mean we are incapable of doing so. There are many policy changes which could effectively improve U.S. drug policy, lead to a reduction in the incarceration rate for drug abuse, a decrease in illicit drug consumption, and an overall increase in the mortality rate of individuals who have consumed drugs. First and foremost, there are many resources which indicate that legalization of marijuana has worked very well for the states which have already voted to do so. One of the biggest fears of legalization, which I will address, is the rise of teenage consumption of marijuana after legalization. Luckily, this has not been the case in any of the states which have recreationally legalized marijuana.

Marijuana has not taken over these states or led to a higher rate of consumption in youth populations; rather the teenage consumption rate has maintained the same as that of other states over the years. There has been an observably positive impact made by legalizing cannabis as well, which includes lower rates of opioid overdose deaths. Research from the Drug Policy Alliance has also found that access to medicinal marijuana has led to a great reduction in the amount of individuals addicted to opioids (From Prohibition to Progress). This demonstrates just a few of the positive effects of reforming marijuana policy to allow for recreational and medical use.

Another improvement to U.S. drug policy which would have many positive implications for society includes changing the laws for incarceration of drug users. We create laws against drugs and put drug abusers in jail in hopes of getting them to stop doing drugs, however according to Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter, the legality of a substance does not affect an individual’s decision to continue to consume a drug. This would mean that if an individual was addicted to a substance and arrested for drug possession, that after they are released they are likely to use again. This means that tax payers will pay for the cost to incarcerate an individual, in hopes that they will stop using, but if they fail that they will be arrested again and more tax dollars will be spent. There is more promising success in attempting to support measures such as harm reduction which don’t guarantee a complete stop in drug use, but rather a steady decline. The goal of harm reduction is to focus on the other issues caused by drug abuse, which affect the rest of society, and treat those issues first.

According to National Public Radio, this has been successful in countries such as Portugal which had a high rate of heroin addiction. Once the approach of harm reduction was implemented, Portugal saw a reduction in HIV infections from sharing needles by 95%, and a reduction in the amount of individuals intravenously injecting drugs. There is more to come of an individual when you try to help them rather than putting them in jail, which only sets them further back. Portugal also found that it was cheaper to treat individuals, rather than to incarcerate them (Frayer, 2017). In the Netherlands, small amounts of marijuana are permitted for possession and the consumption and sale of marijuana is permitted in small quantities in specialized cannabis coffee shops. By doing this, individuals who purchase marijuana are less likely to come in contact with drug dealers who are involved with crime. This policy also lowers the likelihood of criminals engaging in the illegal sale of marijuana, which inadvertently reduces violent crime as well, according to research conducted by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter in their work Drug War Heresies.

Another simple revision to current U.S. drug policy that I would propose is to reinstate the Obama era policy that was revoked by former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, which allowed for states to be in full control of cannabis sales that occur in the state, rather than allowing for federal intervention in states that decided to sell marijuana regardless of current federal policy. The New York Times points out how the current policy will take away from the resources and attention that should be placed on more dangerous substances such as opiates and wastes money and resources on marijuana which is pointless in comparison to the harm that is caused by opiates such as heroin (Board, 2018). In terms of overdose, there are currently no marijuana overdoses which resulted in death.

However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are over 30,000 instances of deaths from opioid overdose in 2017 (NIDA, 2018). This demonstrates a clear need for stronger focus on policies to control the purchase and consumption of opioids in the United States, not a need to focus more on marijuana. According to Huffington Post, in 2010 the amount of money that was being allocated towards law enforcement of marijuana was estimated to be 3.6 billion dollars (Bradford, 2013). With that being said, it only makes sense to embrace a looser policy on marijuana, so that more federal funds can be allocated towards handling the opioid crisis in our nation.

With more relaxed marijuana laws, new policies that support treatment and rehabilitation of individuals who are incarcerated for drug related arrests, the adoption of policies such as harm reduction, and the adoption of less punitive measures for less dangerous drugs such as marijuana, the federal government will be able to allocate more of its resources towards fighting the opioid crisis, and give up the pointless war against drugs such as marijuana which pose no actual threat. I hope that you will seriously consider some of the policy reformation ideas I have proposed, as well as look into the research data and articles I have mentioned to generate your own educated stance on the matter.

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