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Decriminalizing Cannabis (and Other Drugs)

(Part 3 of "Vice and Morality Laws")

Let me be quite clear at the outset of this article: the topic being discussed here is NOT about "legalizing" but is intended to be directed toward the idea that prosecution for simply possessing or using a drug is rendered null and void. Legalization of drugs is typically a provocative topic, but decriminalizing drugs should be considered more of a "happy medium" that many people can support.

"Let's talk about this sensibly. We're not insensitive. I know progress has no patience but something's got to give."

Obviously, people will have questions about how this will affect certain areas of their lives, and I will be happy to answer them to the best of my ability, but I think that I can address some of the more common ones here.

Usage: First of all, yes, usage will increase; that is statistically inevitable. However, the horrors that are most often envisioned in the minds of legalization opponents have already been shown to be a false illusion in those areas where recreational use has already been legitimized. Large majorities of the population in those areas are still non-users, so it's not as if everyone in the city or state will stop what they are currently doing to go out and buy cannabis because it's suddenly okay to do so. Also, other related events will noticeably decrease (but obviously not be eliminated). Most noticeably, there will be a decrease in:

Black Market Sales: When buying from a reputable dealer, the product is held to a specified standard (as it would with any other pharmaceutical product). Your purchase has ingredient listings and quality control certifications to ensure that nothing has been added of which you are not aware. This leads to fewer overdoses and an overall higher safety when using the product.

Gang-related Incidents: Due to being able to buy your product from a reputable dispensary, those gangs whose primary funding is derived from black market sales will start to lose their income. This, in turn, will likely lead to a decrease in gang population as there would be a very small market for gang-related "jobs". Additionally, there will no longer be a need for gang members to acquire weaponry to prevent being scammed in a drug deal. Your purchase is simply a "contract obligation"; if that contract is not fulfilled, it can be taken to court, just like any other business.

Incarceration: Jails have been statistically shown to be absolutely useless to curb drug use. Those who are hard-core addicts might suffer while in jail, and maybe even use that time to become sober, which is laudable. But even after their release, the current justice system is designed so that there is no way to completely recover because the individual will have a tainted record. This leads to some not being able to acquire a job, an inability to vote, and possibly even having their children removed from their custody even if those children have been well-cared-for and not neglected. This is a mark that even those whose only crime is drug use or possession (e.g., not sales, nor any other illegal action committed while under the influence of a drug) will carry with them.

Living in Fear: "So," some will say, "that's a great reason to not use drugs. Don't do drugs or you will be punished." Sure, fear can be a great motivator because we will do more to avoid that which we fear than we will to acquire that which we love. The thing about it, though, is that no one wants to live their lives in fear. (Just ask anyone suffering from post-traumatic stress.)

"I'd like some changes but you don't have the time. We can't go on thinking it's a victimless crime."

Racial Discrimination: It has been statistically shown over multiple studies that even though the frequency of use between black users and white users remains relatively equal, the frequency of arrests and prosecutions of black users is much higher. Decriminalization would end any legitimate reason for law enforcement to perform unwarranted searches, allowing citizens to hold onto their Fourth Amendment rights and much more.

"No one is blameless but we're all without shame. We fight the fire while we're feeding the flame."

Here are a couple of questions to consider on this subject:

  • How many people are currently languishing in prisons all over the country for simply having had a plant (i.e., cannabis) - not using it, simply having possession of it? Who was the actual victim in that instance?
  • By decriminalizing drugs, how many of our tax dollars could be saved - and re-directed to other arguably more worthy causes like rehabilitation - by not needing to imprison those whose only crime was possession or use of contraband?

I've talked to a lot of people about decriminalization, and even legalization, and some of them persist in the belief that I am some hard-core addict with a needle constantly hanging out of my arm. I will admit that I do have addictions, the most prominent among them being caffeine and PlayStation (especially those Lego games). But those opposed to decriminalization always seem to come back to the same argument: drugs are bad. That may be true, but that's not enough of a reason to continue these prohibition laws.

"I know perfect's not for real. I thought we might get closer, but I'm ready to make a deal."

The point of decriminalizing drug use is not to attempt to make drugs into "a good thing". The point is that we should not be trying to control people's choices and decisions through law. It's been tried before and it failed spectacularly (i.e., the 18th and 21st Amendments). Until an actual crime is committed, one in which someone other than the user is harmed, it seems to me that prohibition laws like these only serve to empower the authoritarians.

Committee to Elect Darren Hamilton
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