• the world’s most popular illicit drug - around
190 million users worldwide
• 41% of Americans have smoked pot - 26
million regularly use - multi-billion dollar
industry - nation’s leading cash crop
• ~750,000 people are arrested for possession
of MJ each year - half of all drug abuse
• 81% of Americans support medical
legalization and 45% support general
legalization - popular
• currently on many states’ agendas
• marijuana’s illegality is causing signiﬁcant
problems for society
• public opinion
• crime, terrorism, and social order
• Federal Marijuana Act of 1937 - ﬁrst outlawed
• Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and
Control Act of 1970 - National Commission on
Marijuana - rec’d decriminalization but Nixon shot
• 1972, NORML petitions DEA to downgrade MJ
from class I
• 1973, Oregon enacts form of decriminalization
• 1982, NIH/NAS begin to study medicinal value
• 1984, Anti-Drug Abuse Act - severe penalties
• 1988, Judge Young concludes reclassifying MJ
to class II (physicians prescribe), but DEA
• 1996, CA passes prop. 215 - medical use -
begins federal tension and intensiﬁes
economic cost/beneﬁt debate
• 2005, Gonzales v. Raich - congress may ban
MJ regardless of state legislation
• now, MJ back on agenda - 10/09 Dept. of
Justice decision not to prosecute patients
• the foundation: legitimate medical use - overwhelming
pro/neutral evidence - but enough political uncertainty to
• MJ likely has a natural role in pain modulation, appetite,
control of movement, and memory
• average potency increased very little since 70s (~3%)
• in driving studies, MJ may actually reduce the
responsibility rate and lower crash risk
• DEA Judge, Young - “In strict medical terms MJ is far safer
than many foods we commonly consume,” in fact, “MJ in
its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active
substances known to man.”
• “cannabis poses a much less serious public health
problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco
in western societies." - strong policy implications
• Johns Hopkins - "no signiﬁcant differences in cognitive decline
between heavy users, light users, and nonusers of cannabis."
• the WHO report - "it is doubtful that cannabis use produces a
well deﬁned amotivational syndrome."
• the majority of occasional users “will not suffer any lasting
physical or mental harm” - little evidence that effects persist after
drug use stops “or that any direct cause and effect relationships
• NIH - “marijuana does not have a long-term negative impact on
• Nat. Com. on MJ and WHO - careful search of the literature/
testimony of nation’s health ofﬁcials has not revealed a single
human fatality in the US proven to have resulted solely from
ingestion of MJ. Experiments on monkeys conclude that the dose
required for OD death was enormous and for all practical
purposes unachievable by humans.
• "contrary to our expectations, we found no positive
associations between MJ use and lung or UAT cancers”
• IOM on “gateway theory”- “there is no conclusive
evidence that the drug effects of MJ are causally linked to
the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs."
• Nat. Com on MJ - “rather than inducing violent/aggressive
behavior and weakening impulse control, MJ was found to
inhibit the expression of aggressive impulses by pacifying
the user, interfering with muscular coordination, reducing
psychomotor activities and generally producing states of
drowsiness lethargy, timidity and passivity."
• “MJ’s relative potential for harm to the vast majority of
individual users and its actual impact on society does not
justify a social policy designed to seek out and ﬁrmly
punish those who use it.”
• ethical argument - response of societal
• moral normative argument - danger (real vs
perceived) - legalization increase control -
government/collective vs individual
• ontological - personal freedom (John Mill)
vs constitutional and implicit fundamental
• philosophical critique of decriminalization -
inappropriate, constitutionally suspect, and
functionally irrational - then legalization
• current policy - prohibition - citizens will abstain from
actions if the actions are typed as unlawful and the
prohibitions are enforced by law enforcement
• Jimmy Carter - “penalties against drug use should not be
more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug
itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against
the possession of marijuana in private for personal use." -
• more than 700,000 arrested on MJ charges last year (~5
million in past decade) - 90% of arrests are for simple
possession - and increased arrest rates are not
associated with reduced MJ use/availability/new users/
potency - waste of resources
• MJ offenders incarcerated in US jails now outnumber the
total number of prisoners in 1980 as well as the entire
EU prisoner population - massive spending on prisons as
opposed to education/health
• MJ arrests disproportionately impact young males
• state costs for MJ arrests are ~$7.6 billion/year - police
costs $3.7 billion, judicial/legal costs $853 million, and
correctional costs $3.1 billion. In CA/NY, state costs for
MJ law enforcement are over $1 billion/year each
• the US prohibition effort is currently a $30 billion
campaign - only includes direct enforcement
expenditures - signiﬁcantly more with addition of
economic impact of holding 400,000 prisoners on
• CA has a landmark bill to tax and regulate marijuana like
alcohol - estimated $1.4 billion/year revenue from fees/
• estimates hold that MJ legalization would yield tax
revenue of $2.4 billion/year if taxed like all other goods
and $6.2 billion/year if taxed at alcohol/tobacco rates
• former undercover DEA agent Michael Levine explained
his work with Colombian cartel: “I learned that not only
did they not fear our war on drugs, they counted on it to
increase the market price and to weed out the smaller,
inefﬁcient drug dealers. They found U.S. interdiction
efforts laughable. The only U.S. action they feared was an
effective demand reduction program. Top cartel chief,
Jorge Roman, expressed his gratitude for the drug war,
calling it “a sham put on for the American taxpayer” that
was actually “good for business”
• current system of criminalization provides powerful
incentive for political/enforcement corruption
• “bad neighbor policy” - Latin American countries criticize
US prohibition for providing the massive market that
• business-as-usual / do nothing (prohibitionism)
• philosopher Husak explains “current drug policies lead to
immense personal suffering, as well as police corruption,
organized crime, and make drugs more dangerous b/c not
subject to proper controls” - “it is now beyond
reasonable doubt that applying criminal sanctions for
minor cannabis offenses is not in the best interests of the
• decriminalization - abolition of criminal penalties,
retroactively, though ﬁnes may still apply - solves much of
issue, but is logically incongruous, without major beneﬁt
• legalization - removing a legal prohibition - would open
up new, massive, regulated markets.
• economic efﬁciency (cost/beneﬁt analysis)
• political acceptability
• strength and improvability
• process values - transparency, citizen
• legal implementation and efﬁcacy
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