Marijuana in America has become a major issue. Some argue that marijuana is a dangerous drug that should be criminalized accordingly. Others argue that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or cigarettes, and aside from that, is a personal choice that should not be regulated by the government. In addition, there are mounting concerns about the number of people who find themselves in jail because they have been caught with a small amount of the drug. These facts are compelling, and there are many reasons why the laws pertaining to marijuana – both federal and state level – should be reformed and made less restrictive. Perhaps the most important reason why these laws should be reformed has to do with the fact that many people are being put into prison for extended periods because they possessed the drug. This is a bad outcome for society for a number of reasons.

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For one, these are people who, while breaking the law, did not harm another person. When they are put into prison, they are thrown in with a dangerous population. They are likely to learn skills while in prison that will make them more dangerous when they get out. Likewise, when people are put into prison, they come out with a criminal record, making it more difficult for them to go to college, get scholarships, get apartments, and participate in society. This leads to poorer results overall for families, contributing significantly to poverty in inner cities. At current, these laws fall the hardest on black and Latino men, but poor white men are often under the umbrella of these laws. Many sociologists blame this part of the drug war for creating the conditions in urban areas that ultimately contribute to cycles of poverty and crime.

In addition, there are researchers who suggest that the best way to deal with drugs, if one chooses to deal with them at all, is by seeing them as a public health problem rather than a criminal problem. The person who smokes tremendous amounts of marijuana may cause damage to his own life, and this could be better dealt with by having more treatment programs available to those people. While some will suggest that it is possible to have both a criminal program and a treatment program, resources are scarce in many states. For every dollar that is spent on the police, the courts, and the defense of a person who has been picked up for possession of marijuana, that is a dollar that cannot be used for treatment programs not only for marijuana, but also for other harmful and addictive substances. Advocates are correct in noting that there is very little difference between marijuana and cigarettes, and in fact, cigarettes can do more societal harm. Even with this fact present, cigarettes remain legal, while marijuana does not. This is a double standard that has little basis in fact and should not have basis in law.

Ultimately more societal harm is done by the criminalization of marijuana as opposed to other ways of dealing with people who are on the drug. Communities are ripped apart and resources are spent trying to put non-violent people into prison because they consumed a product that is no more harmful than a bottle of whiskey. For these reasons, marijuana laws should be reformed in America, as they have been in a handful of states to this point. There are better ways of dealing with this drug problem than by putting people into prison, where they come out with records and with more criminal skills than they had going in.

  • Caulkins, J. P., Kilmer, B., Kleiman, M. A., MacCoun, R. J., Midgette, G., Oglesby, P., … & Reuter, P. H. (2015). The Marijuana Legalization Debate.
  • Saaty, T. L. (2015). A Marijuana Legalization Model Using Benefits, Opportunities, Costs and Risks (BOCR) Analysis.  International Journal of Strategic Decision Sciences (IJSDS),  6(2), 1-11.