By Janelle Norman
The harsh penalties for drug-related crime, commonly known as “the war on drugs” was put in place in many countries with the intention of decreasing the amount of people who abuse or sell them.
What happened instead was a large increase of drug-related violence, corruption and distribution, and very little change in the amount of people who abuse drugs.
Compare this to the Prohibition era in the United States during the 1920s and 30s. Alcoholism rates didn’t improve, but what did happen was a wave of organized crime, most notably the Sicilian Mafia, who served as an underworld source for alcohol.
Many Latin American and Caribbean countries have experienced waves of drug-related crimes after enforcing laws against them.
As a result many countries, including the United States are starting to consider retracting these anti-drug laws.
On February 24, possessing and cultivating small amounts of marijuana became legal in Alaska. Growing small amounts of weed is now legal in Washington, DC as of February 26.
Although these are the only states that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes, 19 other states have legalized consuming and smoking weed for medical purposes.
Very few people have a true understanding on the stark difference between legalization and decriminalization. Whether a drug is legal or decriminalized has effects on policing. While many people are either rejoicing or denouncing these decisions, it’s important to realize that either decision allows for weed to be sold, consumed or cultivated with impunity.
For example, in countries like Jamaica, which recently decriminalized the possession of at most two ounces of weed on February 25, a person can still be fined if they carry or use it in public.
What has changed for Jamaica is that anyone caught possessing small amounts of weed can’t be arrested or charged in court.
Decriminalization is different depending on the country or state, but what is general is that a person cannot be arrested or sentenced in court for possessing weed as long as it’s within the area’s limits.
In Uruguay, where possession of small amounts of weed are decriminalized, a person can get their license revoked for weed possession.
In Portugal, a person can be ordered to take classes to help prevent them from abusing marijuana.
In Alaska, Colorado, and Washington DC, weed is legalized, so while there are fewer restrictions for weed possession, there are still certain boundaries that apply. For instance, Alaskans can cultivate and use weed for recreational and medical purposes without being arrested or tried in a court of law, but getting caught selling weed can be fined.
Oddly enough, in Washington DC’s legalization laws only legalize the possession of weed, but not the buying or selling of it.
Colorado has probably been the most controversial case of marijuana legalization. While Colorado’s laws on possessing weed are relaxed, Colorado’s bordering states, especially Nebraska have actually enforced stricter policing to prevent Colorado’s influence from spreading.
According to B.J Wilkson, the police chief of Sidney, Nebraska, illegal drug trafficking has increased dramatically since Colorado’s decision. Marijuana-related crimes have increased 50 percent since last year.
Oklahoma has joined Nebraska in outrage and sued the state altogether. Both states even took this issue to the Supreme Court, demanding that Colorado makes weed illegal again.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more arrests are made for non-violent drug offenses than all violent crimes combined. A vast majority, specifically about 90 percent of these drug arrests are marijuana. The Huffington Post reports that one person is arrested for marijuana every 42 seconds in the U.S.
There are financial benefits to both legalizing and decriminalizing weed. About 7.5 to 10 billion in tax dollars are spent arresting and charging people for drug offenses.
The U.S could save an estimated 13.7 billion in tax dollars if weed was legalized. Colorado brought in a whopping 53 million dollars in tax revenue since selling weed in dispensaries.
Although there are benefits in decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, there are certain aspects that are just as ineffective as criminalizing the drug. Although Colorado made 53 million dollars last year, it was much less than the economist predicted, around 184 million dollars.
Legal weed sold at dispensaries in Colorado had a 28 percent tax rate. Because of the high price, many people are still purchasing weed illegally for the affordability.
What decriminalization and legalization both fail to do is dismantle large organized drug-distribution groups.
Often times, these laws punish the drug users or individual dealers but don’t go as far as to tackle the root of the problem.
So while they both prevent unnecessarily strict policing and saves a country billions of dollars annually, they are just as ineffective as making weed criminal when it comes to eradicating the source of the drug problem.