Marijuana is illegal on a Federal level yet legal in some American states. The US seems to be experimenting with legalization, to see whether or not this will work. Professor Roger Roffman from the School of Social Work at the University of Washington and Anthony Ginn, a writer from London discuss this unusual situation.
Marijuana is now legal for recreational use in 2 states and legal for medical usage in 13. Americans look at this with mixed feelings, some accepting this as a new social phenomenon, others rejecting the new situation outright, citing a marijuana-related driving accident as an example. The overall trend in the US appears to be in favour of decriminalisation of recreational usage and legalization for medical use. The fact that Federal and State authorities have different laws simultaneously indicates that the US government can still back track, or does it? Legalization in parts of Europe has already progressed beyond the stage reached by the US. Legalisers in America hope that marijuana legalization will have a positive effect on the booming drugs trade, although American dealers, dealing in heavy drugs and marijuana are often one and the same people, unlike the situation in the UK, according to our experts.
What is the situation with the legalization of marijuana in the US at the moment?
Prof. Roger Roffman: In the US there are now 23 states that have passed laws that make medical marijuana in one form or another legal. They protect from being prosecuted if they are using marijuana for medical purposes. And typically means that they’ve had a doctor given them an authorization.
There are now two states in the US where recreational marijuana has been legalized, where it is legal to sell it and to grow it, and to possess it if you are licensed by a state agency. And then, there are 17 states in the US where possession of marijuana has been decriminalized, in other words no criminal penalties, but it has not been legalized for growing or selling.
What is the opinion of the American middle classes about this? Is opinion fragmented, or is there one general opinion?
Prof. Roger Roffman: America is very fragmented across a number of domains, politically, of course. But the attitude of Americans about marijuana crosses the continuum. There are many people, however, and this is based on national polls, who, while recognizing that marijuana has harms, are also recognizing that the efforts to prevent marijuana from being grown and sold, and possessed, and used have really failed badly. We have far too many people who are becoming very-very wealthy because they are finding ways to go around the law and to undermine it. The Americans are recognizing that the drug war is not succeeding and they have different attitudes about how to change it.
How can America live with two different legal systems at the same time? When the federal level bans marijuana and whilst the states’ administrations have legalized it?
Prof. Roger Roffman: It really doesn’t make sense if you take it quite literally. But the Justice Department under President Obama said – we will support the laboratory of democracy principle, we will support states that create tightly regulated markers and we will not prosecute, nor will we try to eliminate what those states are doing, as long as they pay attention to 8 key principles.
And among them were: avoiding increasing access to young people, paying attention to dangers of driving while under the influence of marijuana, avoiding the fueling of underground criminal cartels by this new system of regulation. So, there are 8 points. Diversion of marijuana across the state lines was another one. So, the Justice Department is reserving the right to use federal policy to close these states down, but it is waiting to see if they do the job well.
Is this situation an experiment in the states?
Prof. Roger Roffman: I think it is an experiment. I suspect that other states will watch what is happening in Washington and Colorado, and will probably make improvements in terms of specific components of the law. As you may know, just this week a report was issued by the Global Commission of Drug Policy and their report is going to be the focus of a 2016 UN General Assembly special session of drug policy.
And one of the points in their recommendations is to allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets of currently illicit drugs. So, I don’t think that the state of Washington has the final product. But I think it is going to contribute a great deal of information to help us to figure out how to deal more safely and healthfully with marijuana.
Anth Ginn: I think it is heading for a permanent legalization. One of the reasons that Professor Roffman mentioned earlier on is that criminals are becoming richer and more powerful, like they did through prohibition. But also, it is wasting a lot of police’s time, a lot of police’s energy and a lot of time from the courts, people a lot of time in prison, people who shouldn’t be there. And a common sense says – well, actually, this seems to harm people too much. The medical consequences don’t seem to be too bad. Definitely, not as bad as alcohol and smoking tobacco. Common sense says – legalize it and let people make their own minds up.
What will legalization of marijuana do to clamp down on the drug trade?
Prof. Roger Roffman: I think it is going to affect economies in a number of ways. It will make it less expensive to enforce criminal penalties against users, people who are low-level consumers of drugs. It will allow criminal justice money to be spent on the traffickers, the higher-level people who are essentially running drug cartels. And tax revenue can be then used to spend money on public education and prevention, and treatment. It can sure up municipalities in terms of other kinds of educational resources that are needed. So, it is really a two-sided coin in terms of how the economy can be benefited.
Anth Ginn: It is important to discriminate between criminals who trade in marijuana and criminals who trade in much more dangerous drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, and methamphetamine. It is all part of the black economy in drugs, but actually there is a big difference.
We are talking about different people who trade in these drugs or the same people?
Anth Ginn: Generally, different people in the UK.
Okay! And the same thing in the States, Pr. Roffman. You have different people trading in marijuana and different people trading in heroin and other heavy drugs.
Prof. Roger Roffman: All of the above. So, there are some specialists and there are others who dealing in diverse drugs.