Several countries throughout the world are working to decriminalize or legalize less harmful drugs such as cannabis (marijuana). It has been suggested, and in some cases demonstrated, that legalizing or at least decriminalizing marijuana can help to reduce violent crimes and significantly decrease the number of people incarcerated for drug use which would allow more individuals to remain contributing members of society. It would free up funds and law-enforcement manpower to instead combat the more urgent societal issues. The evidence demonstrates that legalizing cannabis for medicinal in addition to general purposes would prove a benefit to society, evidence which is well-known throughout the scientific, political and public arena but this collective knowledge has yet to be acted upon. This discussion will examine the issue of legalization drawing from European and American experiences.
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Supporters of legalization invoke the theories of John Stuart Mill, who espoused that adult citizens should have the right to make their own choices regarding whether or not to participate in harmful activity as long as it does no harm to others, a theory that has been largely ignored in the decisions regarding alcohol and tobacco, but not cannabis (“Case for Legalisation,” 2001).
Eleven states allow the use of marijuana for medicinal use, Rhode Island the most recent joining California, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Washington and, Vermont and Maine. However, laws enacted by the federal government supercede those of the states. Therefore, physician within the borders of the U.S. can not lawfully dispense marijuana nor can a patient legally possess it (Schweitzer, 2005).
The social ills associated with the illegal drug trade include violence with no legal recourse and the criminalization of those who purchase in the illegal market, crowding prisons and resulting in the early release of violent criminals, both a revenue draining reality. Prohibition has probably reduced the scope of drug distribution but has also ensured negative economic effects. Most European nations separate cannabis from the harder drugs in its laws and discussions but the United States generally does not. The prohibition approach taken by the United States have led to an astronomical increase in the rates of crime and numbers of incarcerated individuals as a result while having little to no impact upon the actual availability and usage rates within the country’s borders (Coughlin, 2003).
Research has provided evidence to suggest that people who use drugs are more prone than nonusers to commit crimes. It also confirms the fact that those arrested were commonly under the influence of a drug at the time they committed their offence and that the trade of drugs produces violence. However, this research remains ambiguous and ill-defined and therefore misleading in its conclusions. Because of inconsistent and problematical data, it is impracticable to access quantitatively to what extent that drugs encourage the incidence of crime. (Drugs and Crime Facts, 1994) The association between alcohol and violence, according to various studies, epitomizes a correlation that is confounded by other dynamics such as socio-demographic and personality characteristics. Similar analysis of cannabis use and its associated delinquency establishes that people who used marijuana were more likely than those who did not to simultaneously engage in non-violent delinquency. However, “prior marijuana use did not increase the risk of later violent or non-violent delinquency.” (Derzon, 1999)
The prohibition of marijuana makes little sense and disallowing the medicinal use to cancer patients living every day with agonizing pain and glaucoma patients who depend on marijuana to see better, for example, should be unthinkable in a civilized society.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). “Drugs and Crime Facts, 1994.” ONDCP Drugs &
- “Case for Legalisation, The.” The Economist. (2001).
- Coughlin, Geraldine. “Dutch to Prescribe Cannibis.” BBC News. (2003).
- Derzon, James H. & Lipsey, Mark W. “A Synthesis of the Relationship of Marijuana Use with Delinquent and Problem Behaviors.” School Psychology International. Vol. 20, (1999). pp. 57–68.
- Schweitzer, Sarah. “R.I. may allow medical marijuana” The Boston Globe (2005)