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decriminalization has been implemented effectively. In2011, California law changed, and simple marijuanapossession was reclassified as an infraction(administrative violation) instead of a misdemeanor,leading to a significant decline in misdemeanormarijuana arrests.”
Specifically, misdemeanormarijuana arrests plunged from 54,849 in 2010
to7,764 in 2011,
and remained constant in 2012 at7,768
-- a decrease of more than 80 percent.Because of this dramatic reduction, overall drugarrests declined from 129,182 in 2010 to 76,916 in2011,
and 79,270 in 2012.
However, decriminalization falls short in many ways –largely because it still lies within the framework of
Consequently, decriminalization still suffersfrom the inherent harms of prohibition – namely, anillegal, unregulated market; the unequal application of the laws (regardless of severity of penalty) towardcertain groups, especially people of color; unregulatedproducts of unknown potency and quality; and thepotential for continued arrests as part of a “net-widening” phenomenon.
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. Thisphenomenon 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.
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.”
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.
Even an arrest recordcan be an obstacle to opportunities for otherwise law-abiding individuals.Additionally, not
decriminalization schemes protect
people from risk of arrest. Even in many of thestates that have reduced penalties, marijuanapossession is not fully ‘decriminalized”. Some stateshave defined simple marijuana possession as onlyone-half ounce or even less;
possession of morethan these amounts may still trigger harsh criminalpenalties. Some states have only decriminalized a firstoffense, while subsequent offenses are punishedseverely.
Other states’ decriminalization laws haveloopholes, such as New York’s, in which personalpossession is decriminalized but possession in “publicview” remains a crime; as a result, even thoughmarijuana is formally decriminalized, the NYPD stillarrested roughly 40,000 people in 2012 – the vastmajority of whom were blacks and Latinos.
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].”
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.
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.
The U.N recently described Central Americaas one of the most violent regions in the world outsideof active war zones.