The Need For All States to Decriminalize Marijuana Use and Distribution

Marijuana (MJ) and its derivatives have been the subject of social, legal and cultural policy initiatives in the United States for most of the last century. Almost all coming from the Prohibition perspective. First, emanating from various legal policies born in the 1920s and 30s, created out of racial prejudice, ignorance, bureaucratic hubris and arrogance. […]

Marijuana (MJ) and its derivatives have been the subject of social, legal and cultural policy initiatives in the United States for most of the last century. Almost all coming from the Prohibition perspective. First, emanating from various legal policies born in the 1920s and 30s, created out of racial prejudice, ignorance, bureaucratic hubris and arrogance. Next, through social and cultural upheavals in the 60s, the failed and bankrupt “War on Drugs” via the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) beginning in the 70s and 80s. The history of negative policy initiatives surrounding Marijuana distribution and use have universally been a running disaster.  After spending hundreds of billions of dollars the unintended consequences just keep on coming; economically, socially, culturally and politically.  It’s time to stop doing all the wrong things.  They don’t work.

Many Mistakes in “Social” Policy

Implementing a subjective morality as law is a mistake in America but has not seemed to hinder its attempted practice over and over again, with excessive damage done each time.. Similar to alcohol, marijuana prohibition has always been a mistake, the same as various other legislative substance/behavior social experiments throughout the 20th century. It breaks a simple and fundamental philosophy of governance: “No government should (or, by right, can) be authorized to do anything no individual would not or should not do coercively to another citizen in a free society.” Especially not for a behavior or activity that is only potentially and primarily harmful to the individual.

Humans of one minority simply do not always do what they are commanded to do, by government or other minorities or even majorities, if they either desire not to follow those commands or believe those commands are in error and no actual crime (objective harm) is involved.  It is an inherent part of human nature, in so many areas, that has not changed for thousands of years. It is also a demonstrably failing, if not completely failed, policy strategy.  Rule of Law and its application must always be objectively common to all, if it is to be adhered to, effective and successful. Further, no majority can constitutionally or rightly vote to do away with the rights of any minority, even though they may try again and again.

The social and cultural cost of the War on Drugs has compounded the fiscal and financial costs. Numerous government and independent studies have clearly shown that law enforcement actions of the last 45 years have simply failed to reduce their distribution and use; both among youth and the adult population. In fact, the opposite is true. Driven by the profits of black market economics also increases distribution incentives and heightens potency.  At the same time, physician-aided and self-medication has increased in the population, primarily through big pharma and prescription pharmaceuticals.  Against that backdrop, the costs are supremely evident in our judicial and “corrections” system incarceration rates as well as in our families and communities integral social and cultural breakdown.

As a natural black (more correctly “alternative”) market consequence, the distribution and use of all types of so-called “illicit” substances has not been reduced but expanded, the opposite of what the proponents of prohibition always promise. That is the nature of prohibition; generating the expansion of alternative markets where none were seen previously.  The moral hazards presented also cause additional breakdown in previously “responsible” behaviors, i.e., the prescription drug ‘epidemic.’

It is also evident in the broad-scale militarization and expansion of the “law enforcement” role of policing and the growing reduction and corruption of the “peace-officer” function. The expansion of Civil Asset Forfeiture (CAF) laws and their execution has only further exacerbated that process in the corruption and harm to civil society due to the introduction of additional moral hazard to policing.

Beginning with the Medical Marijuana (MMJ) movement of the last decade or so, among the several states, a certain inertia has taken hold promising to finally break the long deadlock on the issue of Marijuana use and distribution. Now, movement towards full decriminalization/legalization in other states has once again sparked debate as to what to do.

There is voluminous anecdotal documentation on the various medical uses and efficacy of various extracts of Cannabis. Expansive and inclusive scientific medical studies are mostly just getting underway in the US as those studies were previously prohibited along with its use by the citizens. Consequently, the largest body of documented studies come from international sources.  

The largest such example, Portugal, has decriminalized almost entirely all illicit drug use.  That has resulted in a 50% reduction in the addiction rates of the most addictive substances.  .Drug abuse is treated as a health problem, not a criminal justice problem. Portugal’s experience parallels that anywhere de-facto or actual decriminalization occurs.  Decriminalization/legalization of “recreational” MJ in almost half the united States will only put additional pressure on any state remaining a prohibitive state as untenable.  They can choose to remain under prohibition but then must accept all the negative consequences that decision continues to carry.

Probably most egregious is how the cash crop of industrial hemp got caught up in this whole ridiculous “war on weed.” Here is a plant that only looks similar to medicinal and recreational marijuana while having none of the psychoactive properties. Yet it is classified as “illegal” to grow or possess, in plant form, and is also a Schedule 1 “drug.” It is potentially a tremendously profitable agricultural crop particularly in marginal soil and arid conditions. At minimum, industrial hemp should immediately begin decriminalization and deregulation in order to improve and increase farm income opportunities and for the various related industries that come from its commercial use.

Policy Considerations For States

With the areas above as the backdrop it should become obvious why any state that borders states that decriminalize or legalize, has to get out in front of the issue of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp decriminalization/legalization. Regardless of how any state’s elected officials and policy makers may currently feel one way or the other, decriminalization and legalization efforts are likely to proceed in the states around them. That will create many direct and ancillary problems for prohibition states, as it did after alcohol prohibition ended, and should form the basis for debate in the following areas:

  • Law Enforcement and Interdiction/Incarceration and Corrections

  • Civil Rights/Liberties Abuses and Civil Asset Forfeiture and Law Enforcement Corruption

  • Local, State Fiscal and Budgetary Considerations

  • Community and Social Implications of Municipalities with State Border Proximity and Through Highway/Interstate Connectivity

  • Decriminalization/Legalization Progression Within Prohibition States.  Decriminalization likely more attractive than Legalization

In the face of certain obvious realities the idea that any states have ever been or could become “drug-free” is a non-starter the same as the idea they had ever been or could become “alcohol-free.” Universal human behavioral traits dictate neither one is achievable or, in fact, even possible in virtually any sense.  At the same time, prescription drug abuse is as large or larger a problem, than alcohol abuse and far larger than marijuana abuse.  In fact, a number of international studies indicate that medical marijuana can effectively reduce the overprescription of pharmaceutical drugs in the areas of pain control, seizure disorders and certain psychiatric conditions, among others.

Ignoring or refusing to deal with such issues objectively and head-on in the coming decade will only insure that prohibitive states become unnecessarily more punitive to its own taxpayers and citizens.