Should we decriminalize marijuana users before making it legal?
For the last few weeks, I have been working on a photo series focused on medicinal marijuana users and their opinions on the legalization measures added to this November’s ballot. During one of these interviews last week, I had an older gentleman approach me, looking to contribute to the conversation. As he sat down, he quickly argued that the legalization of cannabis was in fact unnecessary.
I am always welcoming to an open discussion but sitting their with an interviewee was a little awkward. But not wanting to miss an opportunity to gain some knowledge, I asked him to continue explaining his thought. He went on to say that decriminalization of marijuana “is much better”. According to this liberal, outlawing cannabis only allowed the perceived value to rise substantially and eventually leading to the point where taxation could bring great revenues.
“Now they want to legalize something that should never have been criminalized in the first place.”
With the recreational measure on the ballot for several states, it made me wonder if we were looking at this all wrong? Regardless of your state’s legislation, the federal government continues to label marijuana as a Schedule 1, giving it a higher classification than cocaine. So in order to fully decriminalize marijuana, the federal government would have to abandon its monopoly on more things than just weed. Not only that but the end of the cannabis prohibition is perceived as a threat by more than just the federal government. The pharmaceutical industry, private prisons, law enforcement lobbies and the banking industry all stand to lose with the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. As Obama put it in a 2011 interview regarding legal marijuana use, he believes that to fully understand the war against marijuana you first have to “follow the money”.
In 2014, drug companies spent an estimated $229 million dollars in lobbying alone
If the Drug War has taught us anything, the only way this debate will end is with the legalization to consume and grow. Originally declared by Richard Nixon in 1971, the War on Drugs has cost taxpayers $1 trillion dollars and has turned our nation into the most highly incarcerated society in history.
“The prohibition of something people very much want doesn’t work, never have, never will!”
-Doug Fine, To High To Fall
Even if it were waged efficiently, the drug war won’t work. Human ties to the plant have been too strong, across six continents for too many millennia to try to enduringly convince enough people that it’s negatives outweigh the positives (and yes, there are negatives).
Either way, to fully understand the pull and tug with marijuana, everyone has to acknowledge that the cannabis debate is connected to more than just morality. Its connection to the economy, health care reform, civil liberties, climate change, the federal budget and even domestic energy – make this debate way more than just smoking weed.
So instead of fighting for legalization, should we be fighting for decriminalization? Taking on the federal government and it’s playard pals seem much harder than just allowing your state to vote on it. While I agree with this guy that we should focus our attention on the decriminalization of marijuana – I do however believe that it is unrealistic in this political climate. Considering the political mood nowadays, I feel like our regression in social issues would only hurt the marijuana debate. At least with the legalization at the state level, users can still find relief, while this nation figures out how to behave.
Without a doubt, cannabis is going to be grown one way or another, which leaves us with one of three choices;
- Establish a legal framework that provides tax revenue (federal and state level)
- Watch other countries reap all the benefits instead or
- Allow the homicidal, organized crime network continue to operate and NOT contribute to the tax base
So what do you think?
Do you think that decriminalization is better than legalization? If so, how would we at the state and national level rewrite law that would otherwise cost the government and its bedmates billions of dollars annually?