Marijuana was once a controversial issue. Today it is less shocking with some states changing the law to decriminalize, allow for medicinal sales and even legalizing recreational use, such as Washington and Colorado. In most states it still remains against the law.

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Where marijuana led to arrests and the state costs of imprisonment, decriminalization and legalization can lead to revenue streams and reduced costs. Governor Hickinlooper of Colorado, after the passage of the legislation to allow for legal recreational use of marijuana, stated that the purpose was not to increase revenues, but rather a means of funding its own regulation (Hickenlooper 2014). The governor felt that by having a means of regulation and funding to pay for it out of taxation, it is possible to better protect the public and ensure safety.

Decriminalization, on the other hand, does not allow for legal use of marijuana. This method of regulating marijuana is intended to reduce burdens on the criminal justice system by reducing the penalty to a misdemeanor for small amounts. This prevents many individuals from having a criminal record or costing the state through arrest, prosecution and jail.

When a substance is illegal, it provides an incentive for a black market. When the sale of a substance is underground, there is less ability to ensure that it is not sold to minors and that consumers are not exploited. Legalization is therefore preferable to decriminalization, as it can strengthen ensuring that minors do not have access. When it is licensed and regulated, then business owners can be controlled in how they sell marijuana and who buys it.

Federal legislation to prohibit marijuana began in 1937. Marijuana is not known as a substance which causes death, overdose or violence. Given the many substances that are legal and regulated, it is surprising that has been a prohibition for nearly one hundred years.

  • Hickenlooper, G. J. W. (2014). Experimenting with Pot: The State of Colorado’s Legalization of Marijuana. Milbank Quarterly, 92(2), 243-249.
  • Miron, J. (2014). Marijuana Policy in Colorado. Cato Institute.