Decriminalization / Legalization

Legalization will increase drug use. Drug activists often urge congressional members to adopt drug policies similar to that of some European nations, most commonly they use the Netherlands as an example to follow for marijuana policies. What they don’t tell you is that marijuana use in the Netherlands more than doubled in the decade following the establishment of the country’s famous marijuana coffeehouses. Similarly, between 1975 and 1991 when the state of Alaska decriminalized the personal possession of up to four ounces of marijuana, use of the drug went up significantly among Alaskan youth.

Legalization will, no doubt, increase crime-related and other societal costs. Approximately 75% of children in foster care are placed there because of parental substance abuse. Sexual assault is frequently facilitated by substance use – some experts put the number at over 60%. The U.S. Department of Justice found that 61% of domestic violence offenders also have substance abuse problems.

Would drugs be legalized for use by adults only, and if so, how can we ensure children don’t get them? If marijuana, for example, were legalized, it would be marketed like tobacco. Perception of harm would decrease with everyday ad placements undermining years of drug education and prevention work.

Legalization activists claim that eliminating penalties for drug possession will end black market sales. On the contrary, black markets most likely will thrive because they will sell for less and prey on those who are not of age.

Proponents of legalization say that nonviolent pot smokers are “suffering” at the hands of our criminal justice system and that nearly one-third of all federal drug defendants in 2001 are charged with marijuana possession. What they fail to point out is, according to the United States Sentencing Commission’s 2001 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, of all the drug defendants sentenced in federal court for marijuana crimes, the vast majority were convicted for trafficking. Only 2.3 percent (186 people) received sentences for simple possession, and of the 174 for whom sentencing information is known, only 63 actually served time behind bars! Even more eye-opening is that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the median amount of marijuana involved in the conviction of marijuana–only possessions was 115 pounds; not exactly the peaceful pot smokers portrayed by the pro-drug advocates.

Eliminating penalties for drug possession, rather than moving them through the court system, forfeits an extremely important opportunity for intervention that can leverage them into treatment. Research indicates that drug courts and diversion programs can reduce recidivism and promote other positive outcomes, especially for the most economically disadvantaged who cannot afford treatment programs.