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Real World Ramifications of Cannabis Legalization & Decriminalization


By Paul Armentano

Last week Rhode Island became the fifth state this legislative session to introduce legislation seeking to legalize and regulate the adult use, possession, production, and distribution of non-medical marijuana. Also last week lawmakers in the Hawaii Senate approved legislation seeking to ‘decriminalize’ (replace criminal penalties with civil fines) marijuana possession offenses — a policy reform that now exists in thirteen states.

Opponents of such liberalization proposals inevitably argue that any efforts toward decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis will adversely impact the public’s use of marijuana and/or young people’s attitudes toward it. Yet regional data gleaned from around the word consistently demonstrates that the imposition and enforcement of harsh criminal marijuana penalties do not dissuade cannabis use, and moreover, that criminalization is an objectively ineffective public policy.

To better educate lawmakers, opinion leaders, and our own constituents of this consistent, comprehensive, and growing body of scientific literature, NORML has authored the following white paper, Real World Ramifications of Cannabis Legalization and Decriminalization. This paper reviews dozens studies that have examined this issue in regions that have either:

a) regulated marijuana use and sales for all adults;

b) decriminalized the possession of small quantities of marijuana for adults;

c) medicalized the use of marijuana to certain authorized individuals; or

d) deprioritized the enforcement of marijuana laws.

NORML’s paper also proposes general guidelines to govern marijuana use, production, and distribution in a legal, regulated manner.

Based on the multi-decade experiences of various states and nations that have enacted various versions of marijuana decriminalization and/or legalization, NORML maintains that:

1. Strict government legalization/regulation of marijuana is unlikely to increase the public’s use of marijuana or significantly influence attitudes.

2. Decriminalization is unlikely to increase the public’s use of marijuana or significantly influence attitudes.

3. Free market legalization of marijuana without strict government restrictions on commercialization and marketing is likely to increase marijuana use among the public; however, given that the United States already has the highest per capita marijuana use rates in the world, this increase is likely to be marginal relative to other nation’s experiences.

You can read the entire paper online here.

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