The Incredibly Simple Case for Decriminalizing Marijuana

It's so easy and obvious, even politicians can use it. In fact, here's Connecticut's Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney demonstrating how to discuss marijuana reform in terms almost anyone can understand.

“Our state should not encourage illegal drug possession and use; however, possession of small amounts of illicit substances and related paraphernalia for personal use should not leave a person with a life-long criminal record.” (NBC Connecticut)

That pretty much sums it up. No shortage of drug war scumbags have come forward to insist eagerly that we don't need decriminalization because "hardly anyone goes to jail for marijuana," but the idiocy of prohibition doesn't begin when the iron bars slam shut.

Every last aspect of marijuana enforcement is an exhibit in mindless injustice, whether it's digging in people's pockets, testing urine specimens, sniffing around doorways, pulling guns on people, or condemning our youth to a lifetime of criminal stigma over a $10 stash. The very idea that we keep records of the people we've identified as marijuana users is so damagingly and unfathomably stupid that one can't help but marvel at how accustomed to it we've become.

The opportunity to end this terrible embarrassment is upon us at last, and it's exciting to see the Connecticut Legislature learning the right lesson from what decriminalization has accomplished for their neighbors in Massachusetts. This is how it starts.

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Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

rational common sense and

rational common sense and logic. Isn't that a refreshing change of pace coming from politicians.Thanks!

Decrim is a half-measure at best

I obviously support any move away from strict prohibitionist drug policy, and it's refreshing to hear Mr. Looney lay out the case so simply.  But "decriminalization" is, at best, a half-measure that maintains much of the damaging policy incoherence associated with prohibition.

First of all, the term can mean virtually anything.  Here in North Carolina, marijuana is technically "decriminalized", but people are being busted every day for minor possession.  Heck, what about New York City?  Somehow a city in which pot is decriminalized has become the world's undisputed cannabis arrest capital.  In light of that, what does "decriminalization" really even mean?

More fundamentally, even a legitimate decriminalization law constitutes fence-sitting, and is a bit hypocritical.  For what other product in the world is possession legal, but sale is a criminal offense?  It makes no sense -- if it's OK for people to partake in an activity, it should also be OK for legitimate businesspeople to facilitate sales and services related to that activity, for a profit.  Business transactions are, by their very nature, consensual.  How can one party of a consensual transaction be guilty of a crime when the other party has done nothing wrong?

Again, don't get me wrong -- this is an incremental battle, and every small step represents valuable progress.  I would certainly vote in favor of decriminalization any time I was given the chance.  But eventually we need to move beyond incoherent half-measures and bring this thing out of the shadows.


It's a step in the right direction, but it won't solve some of the worst problems we face. Nevertheless, it's unlikely we'll go straight from prohibition to regulated sales. Decrim has to happen in between, so I'm always prepared to fight for it.

Re: "First of all, the term can mean virtually anything. "

Right, I've seen some current bills being labeled "decriminalization" where they let you off the first offense with a fine (and supposedly no jail time); however, the second time you are caught with a joint it reverts back to jail time and a criminal record.  But, what are the odds of getting arrested for pot again?  Ask Willie Nelson.

Abolish the second Prohibition.

It isn't working. Let's treat drug abuse the way that we treat alcohol abuse.

Re: "Heck, what about New York City?"

Can you believe that?  That state "decriminalized" marijuana back in late 70's and they still haven't been able to pass even a medical marijuana bill.  If every reform group gave up half-measures like decriminalization and organized aggressive campaigns behind full legalization, we would probably get these concessions any ways.  For example, during the Prop. 19 campaign to legalize marijuana in California, the state assembly made marijuana possession the equivalent of a traffic ticket as a means to undermine the "too many mj arrests" argument posed by the legalization side.  There's a lot to be said for self-delusionment, which gives people the balls to think they accomplish the impossible.


You know that moment in a drama or movie where the man beating his wife or child suddenly stops and cries out,"Oh my god! What I am I doing? What have I become? How could I be doing this?" etc.?

I keep waiting for the Prohibitionists in our society to have that moment. It is sorely overdue.

Decriminalization, where possession and use is a low level infraction offense but production and sales remain criminal is in some ways, the most dysfunctional situation. It increases incentives to produce and sell to meet the demand that low penalties encourages. The message is, that should you dare, huge prohibition profits are there to made because the only "regulation" will be random occasional acts of interdiction. 

Sometimes the best solution is the fully committed one, not the compromise. Full legalization is what achieves the fewest harms, and the most fairness, justice and functionality. 

Criminal laws need to be of absolute necessity and confined to acts that victimize, not what we wish we could get people to do.

martin looney...

at least he chose the right name...


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