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Marijuana policy questions 

* Medical use of marijuana 

* Definition of decriminalization 

* Definition of legalization 

* Marijuana decriminalization - US history 

* Decriminalization : Major problems 

* Should We Legalize Marijuana ? 

* Industrial Hemp: A Bizarre Policy 

 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. 

See: Petition 

Decriminalization : Major problems 

* It leaves the illegal supplier in place. 

This means more availability to the young, makes use more dangerous, activates the "gateway," and many of the other woes described in Drug War Damage and Children

* 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. 


Should We Legalize Marijuana ? 

A review of the Basic Facts (http://www.dpft.org/marijuana.htm) and Decriminalization : Major Problems and the Lancet lays out a strong case for legalization. 

For the federal government to prohibit less dangerous marijuana and essentially grant a protective monopoly to more dangerous alcohol and tobacco must at least raise questions as to whether this violates several of our fundamental values. 

Marijuana use is now so common that it is certainly "in the culture" to stay. We have seen the people who now admit to having tried marijuana grow from 32% to 48% in the past 20 years and that percentage will almost certainly grow. This means that all the problems associated with alcohol Prohibition pertain to marijuana prohibition. It also means that the things people imagine might happen are probably baseless since they have already happened without drawing much notice. Meanwhile we have seen marijuana become one of our nation's largest cash crops, apparently the number one cash crop in some states. 

Certainly prohibition has not worked and society must ask, "What's the point ?" An economic study of possible marijuana legalization in Canada


suggests the US might net some $20 billion per year in reduced enforcement costs and sales taxes. 

We now define millions of people as criminals who would never be criminals in any other way. Can it be worth it to try and dictate whether one should relax in the privacty ot their home after work with marijuana instead of a martini ? 

Our only reservation is the current state of public opinion. The most recent test was a 2004 vote in Alaska where legalization was defeated by a vote of 57% to 43%. We have no good information on the precise reasons Alaska voters were opposed but the margin was quite small considering that if only 7% changed to supporters, it would be a dead heat. We doubt that Alaska - a "red state" - is that different from the nation as a whole. 

We know that the most common objections generally voiced relate to fears of increased use, the gateway, increased potency [See: FAQs ], and public safety [See: Marijuana and Driving], none of which is validated by the research. 

When we consider that the current system has increased availability and risks to children (See: Children), has endangered public safety through diversion of law enforcement resources, has mired us in hypocrisy relative to alcohol and deprived us of substantial revenue, potential benefits are clear. 

When we consider that many innocent people have been killed over marijuana, and the misery that an arrest record has visited on so many of our young, not to mention their often innocent families, we have to ask ourselves what we have gained in exchange for all the damage done. 

If we would test the rhetorical claims of two competing views with real life experience, this is the obvious choice for a low risk and reversible trial. 

At the very least we think this is a dramatic example of why we need a commission to confirm or reject the arguments we make here. [See: Petition

Industrial Hemp: A Bizarre Policy 

Aside from practical matters we repeat our mantra that this is a morality tale. It illustrates how a drug policy can be maintained with little regard for truth, common sense, science or the negative consequences to totally innocent people. We can see no benefit at all from this policy, but even if there was some benefit, society should have to ask, "At what cost ? " 

 "The marketplace, not myopic rules, should determine hemp's future in America." 

- New York Times, editorial, April 11, 1998 

 "While the rest of the world is jumping on the hemp bandwagon, American agriculture is being held hostage to obsolete thinking. It's a legitimate crop with enormous economic and environmental potential." 

-- Jeffrey Gain, former chief of the National Corn Growers Association, March 26, 1998, via NORML 

 "Growing hemp will be a boon for our farmers; it's an easy-to-grow cash crop that is good for field rotations that can help sustain the soil and reduce harmful insects." 

-- Ralph Nader, March 26, 1998, via NORML 

 Industrial hemp is a botanical cousin of marijuana. It has numerous commercial uses [1] but it doesn't induce psychoactive effects because it contains so little of marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, THC. [2] 

It is a product that may have major economic, ecological and health benefits for America [1] and for centuries has had a rich historical place in our culture. [3] But in the US is it illegal to grow. [4] 

Imagine that federal legislators passed a law to combat alcohol abuse by prohibiting the growth of grapes. Children could be suspended from school if they wore or carried anything which pictured grapes or grape leaves. Grapes could be imported and eaten but not grown in the US. 

That is essentially our policy on industrial hemp. And, unlike grapes, industrial hemp cannot even be converted into an intoxicant. 

Whether the word "silly" or "fanatical" first comes to mind, this is another fiasco of "zero tolerance," a policy guaranteed to be ridiculed by the young, adding to the problem of disrespect for authority, a disrespect that, in this case, is richly deserved. 

Hemp policy is another example of federal willingness to run roughshod over the states [5] in a way that is destructive of our principles and to no apparent purpose. The practices of the DEA are as resistant to science as their interference with medical use. [6] 

It has been argued that illegal marijuana could be concealed among the legal hemp plants. Aside from the fact that that hemp is tall and skinny while marjunana is short and plump [7] [ and these are the people we want to help find terrorists ?], a commercial grower would be demented to raise an illegal crop after filing its exact location with police who would inspect periodically. Moreover, the two strains would cross-breed, producing many plants that had little value in either a legal or illegal market. As with the case of medical use, it is hard to fathom the desperation evident in such foolish arguments. Chicken Little never gets to rest in the Drug War. 

 For more information see: http://www.thehia.org/




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