Marijuana Decriminalization Versus Legalization: A Difference That Matters

Many people use decriminalization and legalization synonymously and interchangeably, and that’s not correct.

Decriminalization essentially means that a given activity no longer qualifies as criminal conduct and can only be treated as a civil infraction, but that activity is unregulated. Legalization ultimately means the ability to lawfully regulate a given activity, as well as the fact that that activity is no longer considered criminal conduct. A great article highlighting the staggering differences between decriminalization and legalization is by The Economist, entitled “A half-smoked joint: Decriminalizing drugs leaves the crooks with the cash. Legalize drugs instead.”

Why does the difference between the two even matter?

Decriminalization is NOT enough when it comes to marijuana. As The Economist points out, decriminalization should only be a step towards legalization and regulation. But to leave marijuana simply decriminalized (without more) helps to preserve the existing dangerous criminal monopoly over it. As The Economist simply puts it:

Decriminalization is only half the answer. As long as supplying drugs remains illegal, the business will remain a criminal monopoly. Jamaica’s gangsters will continue to enjoy total control over the ganja market. They will go on corrupting police, murdering their rivals and pushing their products to children. People who buy cocaine in Portugal face no criminal consequences, but their euros still end up paying the wages of the thugs who saw off heads in Latin America. For the producer countries, going easy on drug-users while insisting that the product remain illegal is the worst of all worlds.

That is why decriminalization makes sense only as a step towards legalization. Jamaica and other countries frustrated with the current regime should adopt the policy pioneered by brave Uruguay, Colorado and Washington state, the only places in the world to put criminals out of business. By legalizing cannabis from cultivation to retail, these places have snatched the industry away from crooks and given it to law-abiding entrepreneurs. Unlike the mafia, they pay tax and obey rules on where, when and to whom they can sell their products. Money saved on policing weed can be spent on chasing real criminals, or on treatment for addicts.

To a large extent, decriminalizing cannabis lends ammunition to those opposing legalization. This is because if marijuana is left unregulated gangs and drug cartels will still loom large in the cannabis industry and access by children is more likely. Marijuana opponents can then use these two things to broadly paint cannabis with a bad brush. Eliminating (or at least ameliorating) these arguments requires legalization.

So, when you’re talking about decriminalization versus legalization, be sure to recognize the difference between the two and realize that decriminalization is only a half step towards legalization.

Got it?

3 responses to “Marijuana Decriminalization Versus Legalization: A Difference That Matters”

    “Legalisation” is simply putting lipstick on the pig of prohibition. All legislation enacted so far does the following; restricts individual rights and freedoms; restricts access to full range of effective cannabis medications; creates corporate monopolies restricting freedom of choice; negatively impacts and restricts physician/patient relationships; limits open easy patient access to appropriate medication; restricts freedom of choice to appropriate medication; facilitates market manipulation and increased patient costs; disadvantages small, independent business; fails to ensure patient safety and efficacy of medications; fails to ensure environmental protections; and a litany of other disasters.
    These proposals all have little, if any, basis in proven medical science or research.
    Support the only proposal which, while it may not be ‘perfect’, was written in the public not private interest.
    Patrick Monk. RN Hospice Case Manager. SF. Ca.
    **Society of Cannabis Clinicians.
    **American Cannabis Nurses Association.
    **For Identification Only.

  2. Is there an argument to be made for decriminalization for possession amounts only? Dealers would still face the stiff arm of the law, our prisons wouldn’t be over crowded by non-violent drug addicts, and the money saved could go towards treatment, while the regulation of abusers could be used towards incentivizing them to seek help.

  3. Legalization regulation, means Monsanto. Means bio engineered.
    Anyone who would trust government with it is mislead.
    Already talk in Canada of selling horrid bio engineered version on prescription at Shoppers Drug Mart.
    If it is not a crime, growing our own.
    Drug cartels, in case you havent noticed, are run by government.
    CIA has run drugs globally for decades. Search.

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