Reform Lies in the Weeds of Criminal Justice Policy

Our criminal justice system is broken, and one of the culprits is the criminalization of marijuana. According to a report done by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), police arrest more people for marijuana usage than for all violent crimes combined. Yet marijuana has been consistently cited by medical professionals and health experts as beneficial. How do we fix this problem? We need marijuana to be federally legal and to have the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug (which includes drugs such as heroin) to a Schedule IV drug (drugs such as Xanax and Valium). By doing this, we would be fixing our justice system and finally get a chance to explore all of marijuana’s medicinal qualities.  


If we decriminalized marijuana and reclassified its drug status, our criminal justice system could better use its resources for more serious crimes. According to a report by the ACLU, America spent $3.6 billion on enforcing marijuana laws. By legalizing marijuana, we would avoid arrests, court appearances, probation and parole revocations and time spent in local jails following arrest or serving a short sentence. This flawed component of our justice system is inefficient, costly and sacrifices our public safety. If marijuana became legal, we would be helping our law enforcement respond to more serious crimes and would be able to dedicate our financial resources to more helpful programs, such as education.


There are some people, however, who hold reservations about changing the status of marijuana — both of its federal legality as well as its Schedule I classification — in our justice system. Critics argue that legalizing marijuana would increase the rate of other serious crimes, such as driving under the influence. However, states where marijuana is legal, such as Colorado, have yet to report such increases. Although there have been reports of impaired driving and ingesting too much marijuana-laced foods, these reports are irregular and infrequent. In a Boston Globe article, Dr. Larry Wolk, the top medical official at Colorado’s public health department, said that no large and troubling public health trends have cropped up since legalization.


Colorado’s effective marijuana laws have played a huge role in making this possible. Currently, these laws require that each plant is marked with an ID chip that tracks it from the early stages of its life to its eventual sale. Colorado also requires marijuana to be tested for potency and contaminants and that it be sold in child-resistant containers. Colorado’s ability to effectively implement and enforce marijuana laws should be a clear indication of how possible it is to have marijuana be legal.


Opponents of marijuana legalization should also look to San Francisco’s Equity Program. The Equity Program aims to foster a healthy cannabis industry that supports the San Francisco community. One way the Equity Program is planning to achieve this is by prioritizing business licenses to those affected by the criminalization of marijuana. According to San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis, one of the eligibility requirements to apply under the program include being or knowing someone who was arrested for the sale, possession, use, manufacturing or cultivation of cannabis. Colorado’s effective marijuana laws and San Francisco’s restorative business strategy should serve as models as to how the rest of the country should handle cannabis.


More importantly, reclassifying marijuana’s drug status would allow us to reach conclusive studies on its medicinal benefits. A report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, found evidence that marijuana is a viable pain reliever. Specifically, the report finds that marijuana can reduce the symptoms associated with muscle spasms, such as multiple sclerosis, as well as the symptoms associated with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. However, since marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug, no definitive conclusions can be drawn about its full effects. By reclassifying it as a Schedule IV drug, we can conduct comprehensive medical studies that would lead to a better understanding of its medicinal uses. It would also give us the knowledge needed to create effective marijuana policies and laws, such as having an accurate way for law enforcement to determine the legal limits of THC levels (the chemical compound that makes you high), much like the blood alcohol content levels for drunk drivers. The medicinal uses of marijuana deserve to be explored, and its ability to ensure the betterment of our criminal justice system deserves our full consideration.


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