Marijuana decriminalization: the middle ground both sides seem to miss


The debate around the legalization of marijuana is always a fun one to watch, especially for those who enjoy catching argumentative fallacies.

There is a special kind of hyperbole swung around by both sides.

According to those who are against any form of legalization, their opponents are just a bunch of stoned hippies. According to everyone for legalization, their opponents are just a bunch of squares who probably took “Reefer Madness” a bit too seriously.

The problem is that both sides miss some really crucial middle ground, middle ground that didn’t go away when this state legalized marijuana for medical purposes. This was a debate that received a good chunk of attention last year with the proposal and subsequent defeat of Proposition 19. And during that debate, both sides still managed to miss that middle ground.

But the middle ground most likely to be accessible to both sides doesn’t lie in legalization. It lies in decriminalization. This distinction makes all the difference.

When something goes from being illegal to legal, it is legitimized. It is also taxed, regulated, administrated and generally run through the ringer of bureaucracy.

Given the long history of enthusiastic debate over marijuana, I have serious doubts that there would be any meaningful agreement over how to tax and regulate marijuana.

It is one thing to have a debate over the perceived harm or benefits of marijuana; there is a great deal of hard scientific data to draw from.

It is quite another debate once it turns into an argument about at what age someone should be able to buy marijuana. Can you even imagine the disagreements that are sure to arise once the government tries to regulate how marijuana is grown?

Then there is decriminalization.

California is a state in which marijuana is largely decriminalized, and it works. Decriminalization doesn’t mean trying to legislate marijuana, just putting the enforcement of marijuana-related crimes on a much lower priority.

Yes, you still might face a small fine for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. That is much better than Oklahoma, where according to The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws a measure was just signed into law that makes the minimum penalty for cultivation two years in jail. The maximum is life. Ouch.

We shouldn’t be enforcing criminal charges on marijuana production or possession because these are just not where the most heinous marijuana related crimes exist. Instead of penalizing users, the federal government should shift their focus onto the criminal organizations that use marijuana trafficking as a means for income.

Why don’t we spend money on tracking criminal organizations that barter marijuana for ammunition?

California is a fine example of a state that has shifted its focus on marijuana from enforcement to decriminalization. The federal government is in a position to do the same, as long as representatives on both sides are willing to meet on middle ground that definitely exists.