Protestors advocating for marijuana legalization.

The Legalization Of Marijuana: Just What Is Stopping Other States From Following California?

As reported by The Los Angeles Times, the legalization of marijuana, and particularly the recent legalization of marijuana in California, has been widely debated in the media and in public forums. This debate has been between those who believe marijuana should remain criminalized and those who feel that decriminalization – or legalization – is a preferable policy.

When talking about the topic of marijuana legalization, it’s important to recognize the difference between the ideas of decriminalization and legalization. While on the one hand, the previously existing policies on marijuana in the state of California have had an effect on the state and its people; it’s equally obvious that the legalization of marijuana – as has now occurred – will also have an impact.

Decriminalization referred to the idea that the consumption, possession and production of marijuana – although still illegal – would be a civil offense, not a criminal one. This would have meant that those found guilty would face penalties and fines, rather than a prison sentence.

In contrast to this, the legalization approach taken by California means that marijuana consumption, possession and production will – ultimately – be entirely legal, with no fines or criminal penalties being involved.

However, as Time points out, a good deal of bureaucratic red tape will have to be gone through before this new policy can actually be implemented, making it actually legal for people to grow marijuana and use it. Under this new law, there are still certain rules that will apply. For instance, anyone growing marijuana has to do so in a secure area.

An activists smokes a marijuana joint prior to marching in the annual Hemp Parade in Berlin, Germany.
[Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

It’s not possible to create the perfect drug policy. There will always be factors that haven’t been considered and other questions that cannot be completely resolved. Even so, the public in California – in voting for California Proposition 64 – have decided they at least want to experiment with the legalization of marijuana.

There are certainly many factors that have to be weighed when states are considering legalization of marijuana, including the likelihood of addiction – if any, the possibility of drug substitution, violence related to drugs and social freedom.

There is a commonly held idea that the reason marijuana and other drugs were declared to be criminal in the first place was because of the negative impact that they had on societies and the individuals that comprise them. This is certainly the primary excuse that governments use when defending the criminalization of marijuana and other illicit drugs.

Protestor comparing Phohibition to marijuana laws.
Protestor comparing Phohibition to marijuana laws. [Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

While there may be a degree of truth in this, this explanation largely ignores an important part of the issue. Prohibition – which most people apply primarily to alcohol consumption – became particularly popular during the progressive era in the United States. Prohibition was presented by groups like the Anti-Saloon League as a method by which the nation might achieve both social and moral reforms.

With the 1914 Harrison Federal Narcotics Act, a good deal of the authority to prohibit narcotics, marijuana or other drugs shifted out of the hands of the states and into that of the federal government. This law was supposedly intended to reduce the addiction rates that were at the time rapidly rising.

But it has been argued by many that government intervention in order to prevent recreational drug use clearly represents an intrusion into an individual’s personal liberty. When it comes to enforcing behavior among its citizens, these people believe the only legitimate role for the government is the prevention of crimes in which one individual harms another individual.

This in turn implies that whenever a citizen is carrying out an activity that does not infringe upon the safety or rights of another citizen, the government has no justification for interfering.

A number of authors have also pointed out the costs to society brought about by the war against illicit drugs, particularly marijuana. The criminalization of marijuana has resulted in large sums of money being spent on prosecuting and incarcerating people for their marijuana use. This helps to support the for profit prison system. These are sums that could be better spent fighting other crimes or activities that cause much more damage to society.

[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

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