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DPA_Fact Sheet_Marijuana Decriminalization and Legal Regulation (Why Decriminalization is Not Enough)

DPA_Fact Sheet_Marijuana Decriminalization and Legal Regulation (Why Decriminalization is Not Enough)

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Published by: webmaster@drugpolicy.org on Feb 12, 2013
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Drug Policy Alliance | 131 West 33rd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001nyc@drugpolicy.org | 212.613.8020 voice | 212.613.8021 fax
Why is MarijuanaDecriminalizationNot Enough?
Decriminalization of marijuana possession is anecessary first step toward a more comprehensivereform of the drug prohibition regime. Howeverdecriminalization alone does not address many ofthe greatest harms of prohibition – such as highlevels of crime, corruption and violence, massiveillicit markets and the harmful healthconsequences of drugs produced in the absenceof regulatory oversight.The Costs and Consequences of Prohibition
Marijuana prohibition has been a costly failure. In2011, there were 757,969 marijuana arrests in the U.S. – comprising half of all drug arrests. Eighty-six percentof these arrests were for simple possession, not saleor manufacture. There are more annual arrests formarijuana possession than for all violent crimescombined.
i
Yet today, marijuana is the most widely used illegaldrug in the U.S. and the world. More than 100 millionAmericans – about 42 percent of American adults – admit to having tried it, and over 18 million have usedit in the past month.
ii
 
Decriminalization
Sixteen states
iii
– including California, Massachusetts,Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, and, most recently,Connecticut and Rhode Island – have enacted variousforms of marijuana decriminalization. Two of thesestates, Colorado and Washington, have taken theadditional step of legally regulating the sale andproduction of marijuana.Decriminalization is the reduction or elimination ofcriminal penalties for minor marijuana possessionoffenses. Many of these states have replaced criminalsanctions with the imposition of civil, fine-onlypenalties
iv
; others have reduced marijuana possessionfrom a felony to a fine-only misdemeanor or infraction.
v
 
Why is Decriminalization Not Enough?
Decriminalization is certainly a step in the rightdirection, mitigating the excesses of marijuanaprohibition to a degree.
 
However, decriminalizationfalls short in many ways – largely because it still lieswithin the framework of
prohibition.
Consequently,decriminalization still suffers from the inherent harmsof prohibition – namely, an illegal, unregulated market;the unequal application of the laws (regardless ofseverity of penalty) toward certain groups, especiallypeople of color; unregulated products of unknownpotency and quality; and the potential for continuedarrests as part of a “net-widening” phenomenon.
vi
 Under decriminalization, it is likely that marijuanapossession arrests will continue, or even increase,because police may be more inclined to make arrestsif they present less administrative burdens asinfractions, civil offenses, or even misdemeanors(without jail), as opposed to felonies.This phenomenon occurred in California after the statereduced the penalty for marijuana possession from afelony to a misdemeanor: felony arrests declineddramatically, and overall arrests declined as well, butmisdemeanor arrests rose sharply.
vii
A similar processof “net-widening” occurred in parts of Australia thatdecriminalized marijuana, where “police officers, nowrelieved of the burden of taking the offender throughformal booking procedures, made many more formalarrests…Since many arrestees did not pay their fines,the result was an increase in the number of individualsbeing incarcerated for marijuana offenses, albeit nowindirectly for their failure to pay a fine.”
viii
 
 
Drug Policy Alliance | 131 West 33rd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001nyc@drugpolicy.org | 212.613.8020 voice | 212.613.8021 fax
Even a misdemeanor conviction can hinder anindividual’s ability to succeed and participate in societyby preventing him or her from obtaining employment,housing and student loans.
ix
Even an arrest recordcan be an obstacle to opportunities for otherwise law-abiding individuals.Additionally, not
all 
decriminalization schemes protect
all 
people from risk of arrest. In New York State, forexample, carrying a small amount of marijuana in apocket, backpack or purse is a violation, like a trafficviolation, not a crime. Nonetheless, in 2011 the NewYork Police Department made 50,680 marijuanapossession arrests – more than for any other offense.
x
 Overall, decriminalization provides only limitedprotections from the criminal justice system, because“the police may increase the number of arrests,because the burden of arrest for them has beenreduced…Or the limits for possession have been setso low that many instances of possession for personaluse may be wrongly classified [as trafficking orpossession for distribution].”
xi
 Decriminalization will also do nothing to eliminate thelucrative underground market for marijuana. The valueof marijuana produced in the U.S. is estimated to bemore than $35 billion, making it the nation’s largestcash crop, exceeding the value of corn and wheatcombined.
xii
This immense market is completelyuntaxed, a source of revenue that federal and stategovernments can ill-afford to neglect.Instead, prohibition ensures that this vast marketenriches criminal organizations and contributes toviolence, crime and corruption on a massive scale.Virtually all marijuana-related violence is a direct resultof prohibition, which keeps responsible, regulatedbusinesses out of the market. Since illegal businesseshave no legitimate means to settle disputes, violenceinevitably results – just as it did during alcoholProhibition.The effect has been unending bloodshed in countrieslike Mexico, where at least 70,000 people have beenkilled in prohibition-related violence in the past sixyears.
xiii
The U.N recently described Central Americaas one of the most violent regions in the world outsideof active war zones.
xiv
 Marijuana prohibition is a major cause of this carnage.The federal government has asserted that “[M]arijuanadistribution in the United States remains the singlelargest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels,”
xv
 and has called the substance “a cash crop thatfinances corruption and the carnage of violence yearafter year.”
xvi
The former U.S. drug czar, John Walters,went so far as to publicly contend that more than 60percent of cartels’ revenue derives from the marijuanatrade – amounting to some $13.8 billion.
xvii
 
Taxation and Regulation
Legal regulation is not a step into the unknown – wehave centuries of experience in legally regulatingthousands of different drugs. Legal regulation meanscommonsense controls – marijuana wouldn’t betreated like Coca-Cola, available to anyone of any age,anywhere, at any time. Under many regulatoryproposals, it would be taxed and regulated in a mannersimilar to alcoholic beverages, with age limits, licensingcontrols, and other regulatory restrictions. Just ascities, counties and states vary in the way theyregulate alcohol, the same could be true for marijuana.In November of 2012, residents of Colorado andWashington took the historic step of rejecting thedecades-long failed policy of marijuana prohibition bydeciding to permit the legal regulation of marijuanasales, cultivation and distribution for adults 21 andolder. In Colorado, Amendment 64 won with 54.8percent of the vote. In Washington State, I-502 wonwith 55.7 percent of the vote. The states have alreadybegun implementing their new laws, both of whichcompletely eliminate penalties for marijuanapossession by adults. Colorado’s law also allowsadults 21 and older to cultivate six marijuana plants.Both states determined that simply eliminating criminalpenalties for possession was not enough. They arenow in the process of establishing regulations for thecultivation, distribution and retail sale of marijuana toadults as well – a process that will be completedtoward the end of 2013.Legislators in several states have also introduced (orpledged to introduce) bills to tax and regulatemarijuana. At the federal level, a bipartisan group oflegislators has introduced the first bill ever to endfederal marijuana prohibition.Public support for making marijuana legal has shifteddramatically in the last two decades, especially in thelast few years. For the first time, a 2011 Gallup pollfound that 50 percent of Americans support making
 
Drug Policy Alliance | 131 West 33rd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001nyc@drugpolicy.org | 212.613.8020 voice | 212.613.8021 fax
marijuana legal, with only 46 percent opposed.Majorities of men, 18-29 year-olds, 30-49 year-olds,liberals, moderates, Independents, Democrats, andvoters in Western, Midwestern and Eastern states nowsupport legalizing marijuana. Other recent polls havefound even higher levels of support.Importantly, recent polls by both Gallup and CBSNews have shown that significant majorities ofAmericans believe that the federal government should
not 
intervene to prevent the implementation ofColorado’s and Washington’s new laws. Evenrespondents who oppose marijuana legalization onprinciple nevertheless believe that the decision ofwhether or not to legally regulate marijuana should beleft to the states to decide.
Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal or not? 
%
 
No, illegal 
 
 %
Yes,
legal 
The people of Washington and Colorado have chosento stop wasting resources, fueling violence, anddestroying lives on a failed policy. The impact of theselaws is likely to be tremendous. According to theWashington State Office of Financial Management, thenew law could generate as much at $1.9 billion within5 years. According to the Colorado Center on Lawand Policy, the new law could save state and local lawenforcement millions of dollars and generate as muchas much as $24 million annually. And according to areport by the Mexican Institute for Competiveness,marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washingtoncould reduce profits of criminal organizations in Mexicoby $2 billion or more.
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i
Federal Bureau of Investigation,
Uniform Crime Reports,Crime in the United States: 2011
(2012),http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/persons-arrested/persons-arrested.
ii
Substance Abuse and Mental Health ServicesAdministration (SAMHSA), Office of Applied Studies.(2012).
Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National findings 
(Substance Abuse and MentalHealth Services Administration.), “Table 1.24B Marijuana Usein Lifetime, Past Year, and Past Month among Persons Aged12 or Older, by Demographic Characteristics: Percentages,2010 and 2011,” and “Table 1.24A Marijuana Use in Lifetime,Past Year, and Past Month among Persons Aged 12 or Older,by Demographic Characteristics: Numbers in Thousands,2010 and 2011.";http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2011SummNatFindDetTables/NSDUH-DetTabsPDFWHTML2011/2k11DetailedTabs/Web/PDFW/NSDUH-DetTabsSect1peTabs24to28-2011.pdf. [107,842,000Americans age 12 or older report having tried marijuana intheir lifetime; 18,071,000 report using it in the past month].
 
iii
Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts,Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, NorthCarolina, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island.
iv
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts,Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island. Alaskaimposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possessionof small amounts of marijuana by adults.
v
Nevada, North Carolina, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Ohio.
vi
Peter Reuter,
Marijuana Legalization: What Can be Learned from Other Countries? 
RAND Corporation (2010).
vii
Aldrich, M., Mikuriya, T., et al.,
Fiscal Savings In California Marijuana Law Enforcement, 1976 - 1985 Attributable to the Moscone Act of 1976 
(1986).
viii
Reuter 9.
ix
See, for example, K. Babe Howell, "Broken Lives fromBroken Windows: The Hidden Costs of Aggressive OrderMaintenance Policing,"
NYU Review of Law & Social Change 
,33 (2009): 371; Human Rights Watch,
No Second Chance: People with Criminal Records Denied Access to Public Housing 
, November 18, 2004,http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/11/17/no-second-chance;and Michael Pinard, “Collateral Consequences of CriminalConvictions: Confronting Issues of Race and Dignity,” 85
New York University Law Review 
457–534 (2010).
x
Drug Policy Alliance,
$75 Million a Year: The Cost of New York City's Marijuana Possession Arrests 
, (March 2011),http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/_75_Million_A_Year.pdf; Harry G. Levine and Deborah Peterson Small,
Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy, 1997- 2007 
,New York Civil Liberties Union, (2008); Levine, Harry.
New York City’s Marijuana Arrest Crusade Continues 
, (2009); andAlice Speri, “2010 Marijuana Arrests Top 1978-96 Total,”
New York Times 
(February 11, 2011).
xi
Reuter (2010) 12.
xii
Gettman, Jon, “Marijuana Production in the United States”,
The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform 
(December 2006).
xiii
E. Eduardo Castillo, “Mexico Drug War: List Of MissingRaises Doubts In Mexico,”
Associated Press 
(December 22,
 
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