Lawmakers should focus on decriminalization

As the marijuana debate rages on in New Jersey, I believe law makers should focus on decriminalization rather than legalization. While legalization would lift state laws regarding marijuana, decriminalization would lessen criminal penalties and focus on addressing substance use disorders by encouraging treatment and recovery support, while the sale and production of marijuana remains illegal. Legalization fails to address the social justice goals that many of its advocates claim. Colorado, for example, has seen more arrests of people of color for possession, increasing as much as 58 percent for African American youth, under legalization (Colorado Department of Public Safety). Further, marijuana industries often target poor or vulnerable communities in order to profit. Decriminalization instead focuses on reducing incarceration and getting people the help they need if they are struggling with substance use disorders.
Additionally, legalization increases acceptability of marijuana as well as access, especially among young people. Thus, young people may be willing to experiment with marijuana despite its known risks because of its perceived acceptability and harmlessness. Decreases in the perception of harm causes increases in use for all, including the youth population. Regardless of how most people feel about marijuana use- most agree that it should be kept out of the hands of young people (SAM). Before legislators move forward with legalization, they should consider all the risks, as well as potential benefits. I believe decriminalization would act as a middle ground on this issue, by achieving social justice goals of reducing incarceration while protecting and preventing our youth from substance use.
For more information about this issue, visit Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and NJ RAMP (Responsible Approaches to Marijuana Policy).
Emily Monschauer
Wantage