Decriminalizing marijuana is a hot topic lately, with two states going so far as to legalize recreational use of the substance for all adults — and the American Civil Liberties Union has examined a new study that suggests legalizing pot helps (rather than hurts) young people.
Decriminalizing marijuana is often argued against on the basis of increased availability and the effects such laws and lax policy would have on young people. But a recent study from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) seems to indicate the opposite is true — and perhaps prosecution for use of what is in actuality a relatively benign substance is the true issue to consider when it comes to intuitive and ideal marijuana policy.
Much of the ACLU’s breakdown centers on an ugly fact that is the elephant in the room when it comes to marijuana offenses — far from the problem being marijuana itself, initial contact with the criminal justice system is often its own precipitate to a future likelihood of criminal activity. The causes are legion and beyond the scope of just legal pot, but the basic math remains — when we arrest fewer youths for possessing marijuana, we ultimately end up with fewer youths that go on to become inmates for any reason.
The civil liberties organization looks at the impact of Senate Bill 1449 on a small section of youth drug arrests in California — which decreased by nearly half after the bill passed. The post explains:
“The astounding 47 percent decrease in overall youth drug arrests revealed by this report also indicates that a large majority of young people being swept into the system are not violent criminals or drug kingpins – they are guilty only of possessing a small quantity of marijuana for personal use … As juvenile crime rates have decreased in California, so have incarceration rates, which underscores the reality that it is indeed possible to increase public safety and simultaneously decrease the number of people behind bars. Reduced crime rates and smaller prison populations are not mutually exclusive.”
Another point made by the ACLU is the unintentional but severely disproportionate effect such infractions have on youth of color — and that the existence of laws allowing for the potential harassment of those portions of minority youth predicated on drug laws enabling more broad-scale invasions of their rights and liberties.
It seems America is rapidly moving toward decriminalization in even just the past few years — do you agree that relaxing marijuana laws will overall benefit young people?