Recently, a nation-wide referendum in New Zealand has voted against the legalization of sale, use, possession and production of marijuana in the country. Still, there are many other European and American nations that are currently reconsidering the illegal status of weed. The centuries old social stigma around the herb is waning fast and more countries are likely to either legalize or at least decriminalize cannabis in the coming years.
This brings us to a very important question – what are the pros and cons of weed legalization? But before we start discussing that, you need to remember that legalization of marijuana is not the same as decriminalizing it. So, let’s begin with that. What is cannabis legalization and how is it different from the decriminalization of the drug?
Marijuana decriminalization vs. legalization
Decriminalization doesn’t make it legal to sell, possess or use cannabis. It means that if you are found in possession of weed, you won’t face any criminal charges against you. Instead, you’d have to pay some relatively smaller civil penalties like a fine or joining therapy/rehab programs. Even if it is decriminalized, selling and manufacturing weed will still attract criminal penalties.
For the advocates of decriminalization, cannabis use and dependence is a social and health problem, not a moral or criminal justice issue. Legalization, on the other hand, refers to the removal of all legal provisions against cannabis, making it a completely legal product to possess, use and sell in the open market. Besides Uruguay and Canada, there are 15 US states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Georgia and
South Africa have legalized the possession and use but not the sale, while there are more than 40 countries where medical marijuana is legal. There are more than 30 countries that have decriminalized weed to various degrees and more are expected to follow this path very soon.
However, the support for cannabis consumption is growing fast and marijuana activists all over the world are making strong claims for total legalization of the drug. While there are some solid arguments in favor of weed legalization, there are others who reason against the idea but are ok with decriminalization. Let’s consider the two opposing positions and see what the pros and cons of weed legalization are.
Pros and cons of weed legalization
The advocates of marijuana legalization repeatedly cite the following benefits to argue their cases:
- Boosting the economy
According to reports, Canada witnessed an $8.26 billion GDP boost within a year of legalizing pot. The legal sale of weed amounted to $996 million in the year 2015 which makes it a major source of tax revenue for the government which could then fund many public projects with that money.
- Increase focus and spending on serious crimes
The police and criminal justice systems in most of the countries are practically overwhelmed with marijuana-related cases, most of them being petty possession charges. Legalizing marijuana means that the police, courts and prisons can redirect their funds and energies to deal with more serious and violent crimes.
- Reducing crimes
The legalization of marijuana has the ability to dismantle the black market which usually has deep ties with organized crime. Some of the drug dealers and mafia bosses who control them often have links with terrorist organizations. Legalizing cannabis means that the production and sale of the drug will be regulated by the state and hence the black market will be gone with its ties with the Mafioso or terrorist networks. This can drastically cut down gang-related violences and thereby have a positive effect on the overall crime rates of a particular country.
- The question of safety
In the absence of legal and licensed marijuana stores, consumers get their pot from illegal street dealers. There is no guarantee that the product sold in the black market is free of harmful pesticides or other toxic substances. Legalization means that the production and sale of cannabis will be regulated by the government and therefore quality and safety control standards will be enforced. This means that you get a good quality product and there is no risk of poisoning.
- Greater access for medical patients
While decriminalization of marijuana ensures that a simple possession and use won’t attract any criminal charge, it still doesn’t make weed legal and therefore limits access. Now there are many medical patients who could actually benefit from the therapeutic properties of cannabis and legalization will guarantee easy access to the drug for them.
Those who give their consents to a policy of decriminalization but will vociferously argue against complete weed legalization usually cite safety concerns and the addictive character of the herb in support of their positions. According to them, the major cons of weed legalization include:
- Increased addiction
Many claim that marijuana is addictive and long-term use can develop many mental health issues and physical disabilities. Smoking weed is considered to be bad for the lungs and the throat. For many, therefore, legalizing marijuana will cause a major public health problem by increasing the consumption of an addictive toxicant.
- Increased consumption by the teens
Many believe that the legalization of marijuana pushes the illegal consumption of the drug amongst teens. It is frequently pointed out that the rate of cannabis use among 12-17 years olds is higher in those US states where recreational marijuana is legal.
- Rising traffic accidents
Marijuana often alters perception and affects and coordination or motor skills of the user. Driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous and can cause accidents. This is often a major argument and legalizing pot. According to one estimate, in Colorado, the number of traffic accidents has gone up 62% after the legalization of cannabis.
The above list of pros and cons of weed legalization though includes all major arguments, is not entirely exhaustive. As more and more countries or states are debating the move, new experiences and data are coming to the light. However, after analyzing the arguments on both sides, legalization (compared to mere decriminalization) seems to be beneficial and a more rational move. But hey, you are free to disagree! No one will hold that against you!