The Decriminalization of Marijuana

“_________ affects a person’s judgment and can impair his or her ability to drive. For those who use it regularly, it can lead to poor academic performance or even addiction.”

Go ahead, fill in the blank. Still can’t get it?

Let me give you a hint: there are two answers. One starts with ‘Al’, and the other ends with ‘juana’. If you still can’t get it by now, you just might be a product of our national school system (Okay, kidding. Geez.)

Now, before we go on, you need to understand that decriminalization and legalization are two very different things.

Decriminalization doesn’t mean that people can use drugs without consequences; it means that possessing small amounts of the substance no longer lands you with a criminal record, or worse, a jail sentence. Legalization, on the other hand, means people can freely access or produce marijuana in the open market opening up a whole new cannabis-based industry. Decriminalization is a good step forward towards legalization, especially in the context of Malaysia as the general public is still unaware of the pros and cons of marijuana use (or they simply don’t care).

Alcohol and marijuana have proven to severely impact the mind, but one is legalized and consumed freely while the usage of the other is heavily criminalized in Malaysia. Fact: We do have one of the world’s harshest drug laws, with hundreds of people currently on death sentences because of drug-related crimes.

Now, why is that?

How is it fair for marijuana to be illegal when harmful lifestyles that involve alcohol and cigarettes are freely allowed to be practiced? Isn’t it hypocritical of the government to only recognize certain lifestyles and ban all others?

Let’s take a look as to which is more dangerous: alcohol or marijuana?

A study suggests that legalizing medical marijuana may reduce traffic fatalities, meaning that it is safer to drive stoned rather than drunk. Yale psychiatrist Richard Sewell found that drunk drivers are significantly more dangerous on the road, insisting that a drunk driver is 10 times more likely to cause a fatal accident as compared to a stoned driver. Yet consumption of alcohol is still legalized.

You might be thinking: “Wouldn’t decriminalization of marijuana lead to an exponential increase of marijuana usage?”

Short answer: No. Long answer: Extensive research has been carried out by the University of Michigan on decriminalization policies and their impact on marijuana use. It concludes that “there is no strong evidence that decriminalization affects choice or frequency of intoxicant usage, either legal (alcohol) or illegal (marijuana/cocaine).”

Still not convinced of the benefits of marijuana use? Here, I compiled a list of why it’s a good idea to decriminalize marijuana:

  • Decriminalizing marijuana frees up police resources to deal with more serious crimes.
  • Reports and studies show that far more harm is caused by the criminal prohibition of marijuana than by the use of marijuana itself.
  • Criminal laws prohibiting marijuana possession do not deter marijuana use.
  • Patients with depression or anxiety disorders can have access to medical marijuana for treatment.
  • Drug addicts (from marijuana) suffering from addiction can be treated as patients instead of criminals.
  • Legalizing and regulating marijuana will bring a country’s largest cash crop under the rule of law. This will create jobs and economic opportunities in the formal economy instead of the dark (or illicit) market. Thus, there will be an influx of people joining the agriculture industry.
  • People will be much happier. Basically, the active components in marijuana produce some excitatory behavioral changes, including euphoria and even mild pain relief.

Consequently, there are aspects that should be taken into consideration in terms of regulating use of marijuana:

  • It is likely that middle-aged people who regularly smoke marijuana are at risk of getting heart attacks.
  • Regular cannabis users also double their risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms and disorders, such as hallucinations and delusions.
  • Marijuana is strictly not for kids. Decriminalization of marijuana may increase rates of accidental exposure to marijuana in children, which may harm their brain development and cause intoxication.

Just like any other substances out there, marijuana can both bring serenity and psychosis.

Further studies should be made to tackle unanswered questions regarding marijuana usage, as the effect still varies between users with certain genes and such. Just like any other substance that’s more inclined to be abused, it is important to note that the government will most likely impose a large tax on marijuana. For example, in the US, 70%-100% of profits from cannabis-based industries go to the Federal Government because of, well, tax.

This is very bad news for consumers. (Hey, remember the good ol’ days when alcohol and cigarettes were cheap? Me neither.)

However, should we criminalize it just because it’s prone to abuse? By the same argument, shouldn’t alcohol and cigarettes be banned and criminalized, too? If it’s absurd to throw somebody in jail for drinking coffee (consuming caffeine, also a type of drug) or for drinking wine, isn’t it equally absurd and wrong to throw someone in jail for smoking cannabis?

How we use the substance should be regulated, but the substance itself shouldn’t be banned simply because certain people don’t agree with certain lifestyles.

Nearly one-third of the world’s population is obese, but we don’t go around banning McDonald’s, do we?

Of course, I don’t want to live in a world where everyone is high on the streets. That’s where regulation and limitations come in, similar to the usage of alcohol and cigarettes. However, I sure as hell want to live in a world where everyone is happier, and by that, inclusive of economists too.

Oregon, USA has been producing high-quality cannabis for decades now, and according to The Huffington Post, the market is valued at about $1 billion USD.

In a documentary that tackles this issue, The Culture High, participants were asked, “Is alcohol a drug?”, the majority of US politicians would answer “No.”

When asked why, they say well, it’s not a drug because it’s not illegal.

It contributes to this peculiarly dangerous concept that once something’s illegal, it must be dangerous, and when something isn’t, it surely must be alright. In reality, prescription drugs are as prone to abuse equally as illicit drugs.

One of the things I believe is important, be it in alcohol or marijuana use, is that you’re responsible for the things you do.

People could go around and abuse Paracetamols or antibiotics, but is it justifiable to make it illegal? I don’t think so.

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