(Page 2 of 2)
Ethan Nadelmann responds:
It’s good to see Kevin Sabet apparently endorse far reaching decriminalization of marijuana, which would indeed represent a substantial improvement over the current situation. But he both exaggerates the benefits of decriminalization and the risk of legalization.
California and New York were among the eleven states that decriminalized marijuana possession back in the 1970s, but that did not stand in the way of police finding ways to arrest more people for marijuana possession than ever before in later years. It’s also worth pointing out that African Americans and Latinos are arrested far more frequently than white Americans for marijuana possession – both in states that have decriminalized marijuana and those that have not [pdf] – notwithstanding the fact that they are no more likely to possess marijuana.
While decriminalization of possession has little to no impact on the number of consumers [pdf], it fails to address the problems associated with keeping production and distribution illegal. Legalization is the only way to effectively take the market away from organized criminals and to reduce the violence, corruption and other ills of prohibitionist policies. It also is the best and perhaps only way to ensure quality control over marijuana, including its potency and purity.
While Kevin is correct in saying that legalization risks increases in marijuana use, he is wrong to focus on youth given the extent to which surveys consistently show that young people already have remarkably easy access to marijuana. The more likely increases will occur among older Americans, many of whom may find marijuana preferable to alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs in addressing the aches, pains, insomnias and other indignities of aging.
As for the risks of increased marijuana use, I am struck by the experience in the Netherlands, where marijuana has been more or less legally available to adults for over three decades. By and large, rates of consumption have increased and decreased in tandem with increases and decreases in the rest of Europe – and remain significantly lower than in the United States.
The benefits of legally regulating marijuana dramatically outweigh the potential costs. Thankfully more and more Americans get this. According to Gallup’s polling, 36 percent of Americans in 2006 said yes to legalizing marijuana use while 60% said no. Five years later, in late 2011, the 36 percent in favor had jumped to 50 percent and the 60 percent against had fallen to 46 percent.
The legitimacy of any criminal law in a free society – and especially one that touches the lives of so many people -- depends upon its being embraced not by half the population but by an overwhelming majority. Marijuana prohibition laws are more or less unique in the extent to which they enforce the prejudices of one half of the country on the other.
Tomorrow, Sabet and Nadelmann will consider marijuana reform within a broader context of public health policy.