A recent assembly bill in California is the latest legal proposal that the state begin to regulate, and collect taxes, on marijuana. This is one of the first bills for drug legalization we’ve had in a while. Most of my readers probably assume that I believe drugs have no place in our society, but this sort of assessment would be far from true. As I’ve pointed out in numerous posts on here, only a relatively small percentage of people that try drugs get addicted to them. In fact, I believe that education and regulation, rather than outright criminalization, may end up being our best solution.
Still, unlike many, I’m not ready to jump the gun yet. I think the issue should be studied scientifically, carefully, and that the results should guide our decisions. It is very possible that legalization would greatly increase the drug use problem in the US. The two most commonly used, and abused, drugs in the U.S. are currently tobacco and alcohol, the two widely-available legal drugs; the third in-line is marijuana, which enjoys a near-decriminalized status in a number of states. I don’t think this is a coincidence, and neither do a whole bunch of other smart people (look here for a nice overview of both-sides of this argument, and here for a RAND report).
Still, it’s also possible that drug legalization wouldn’t produce those results, and there’s little doubt in my mind that decriminalization would alleviate many of the common problems that currently go hand-in-hand with drug use: Crime, violence, accidental poisoning, etc. I also believe that if the drugs were legal, the reduction in stigma, health-care coverage, and the availability of far better research could possibly help us in better treating addicts.
The bottom line is that we don’t know and that unless we examine every solution, we’re most likely to miss some opportunities. I also don’t think that outright legalization or the current, harsh, penalties are the true answer. I think that being dogmatic about either position is going to leave us with half-measures, and we don’t want that. It also leaves us with unrealistic solutions – For instance, complete drug legalization is simply not going to happen, which leaves questions as to age limits, use restrictions, and dispensation that unless answered make the debate a purely theoretical one.
In addition to the above link about the bill, there’s a group of law enforcement officials that believes in the repeal of drug prohibition, and not because they use drugs themselves. Just to be fair, the US department of justice has put out a publication speaking out against drug legalization.
Again, if I’ve learned anything in my studies is that a more refined compromise is probably our best actual solution. Still, coming to this agreement will require a lot of work on both sides.