The content in this blog post is not endorsed by the Higher Education Center, but is meant to facilitate constructive conversations
Written by: Robert J. Chapman, PhD, retired Associate Clinical Professor of Behavioral Health Counseling at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
There is growing public opinion regarding marijuana and more specifically, a call to abandon our historically moralistic public policy on its use. Although advocating changes in moralistic public policy, I am not sure legalizing marijuana is in our best interest as a country. Allow me to first comment on two positive points regarding legalization:
1. Legal marijuana will move distribution out of the back alley and place it under the scrutiny of a regulatory body that could ensure quality control. In short, there is something to be said for regulating production from a harm reduction point of view…less harm to the individual who consumes the drug and less harm (most likely in the form of financial savings) to the public when it does not have to pay for the medical consequences of consuming “bad drugs.”
2. There is money to save, not to mention “make,” by legalization. Regarding savings, less spent on interdiction and other law enforcement efforts to stop production and distribution, prosecuting offenders, and incarcerating “criminals.” Regarding earnings, the potential for significant state and federal tax revenues.
As attractive as these two “benefits” of legalization may be, they do not, however, off-set the potential consequences. The biggest “drug problem” we have in this country is with those drugs that are already legal…alcohol (ethanol) and tobacco (nicotine). These substances are regulated and taxed yet together cost us more as a nation than all illicit drug use combined. Legalizing marijuana does not preclude the costs associated with those who develop marijuana use disorder, a.k.a. “dependence,” nor does it consider the untoward consequences associated with single incidence intoxication…the results of consuming “too much” by a non-dependent individual. For example, when considering “driving under the influence,” although legal costs associated with criminalizing marijuana may go down, the medical and social costs associated with its use will likely increase, bringing the risks associated with legalization more sharply into focus.
Another risk associated with legalization is marketing. Legal marijuana is all but synonymous with advertised marijuana. Ads will replicate efforts now used to hawk alcohol and tobacco. What has worked to entice individuals to consume tobacco and alcohol will entice them to use marijuana resulting in an increase in use.
A more practical solution than legalizing marijuana is something akin to what the Netherlands did 30 years ago and Portugal, Mexico, British Columbia, and other countries are experimenting with today…decriminalization. True, this does not do much to address the problem of “quality control” regarding the marijuana supply—and this is no small issue, as regulating production with something like the FDA is probably “the” strongest argument supporting legalization. What decriminalization does accomplish, however, is to shift from employing the criminal justice system to address marijuana use to utilizing the public health model.
Legalizing marijuana, although arguable, is ineffective public policy. To do so does not come without its consequences. Criminalizing those who use marijuana serves neither the general public nor the individual citizen, but legalizing its sale, possession, and use is not without its risk and potential problems.
What do you think? Submit your thoughts, questions, and opinions by commenting below.