The Decriminalization of Marijuana

Every year, more than 1.5 million drug arrests are made in the United States. The majority of these arrests are specifically for drug possession, which is the crime of having one or more illegal drugs in possession for personal use, sale or distribution. Because of this serious problem, many areas are decriminalizing drugs such as marijuana. Decriminalization means an activity is still illegal, but enforcement and penalties are made less severe. In some situations, police may look past certain behaviors.

Many organizations across the world concerned with public health are calling for the decriminalization of marijuana. Some of these organizations with this stance include the World Health Organization, American Public Health Association, NAACP, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Not only are these organizations speaking out; dozens of states and cities in the United States have taken steps toward the decriminalization of drug use and possession.1 But does decriminalization lead to more individuals using drugs, causing more cases of drug addiction? It’s an important idea to explore.

Marijuana field

Addiction and Decriminalization

The National Institute of Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease.2 It is similar in nature to heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. That being said, there is no medical evidence that clearly shows punishment is an effective form of medical treatment. Whether or not something is illegal, an individual is the one who makes the final choice regarding his or her behavior.

While there are plenty of skeptics to decriminalization, the numbers in Portugal show very positive results. All drug use and possession was decriminalized in Portugal in 2001. Over this fifteen-year period, the prevalence of past-year and past-month drug use among young adults has gone down. HIV rates have gone down, and even the rate of adults using drugs for the first time has decreased. Lastly, the number of drug overdose deaths in Portugal is the second lowest in the European Union.

Legalization Vs. Decriminalization

It is important to understand what is meant by decriminalization. Decriminalization is not making drugs legal.3 Decriminalization is the lessening of criminal penalties in relation to certain acts. Fines and/or penalties can still apply. Legalization is when drugs are made legal and may lead to an increase in adolescent use to due increased availability, greater social acceptance and possibly lower prices.4 Unlike legalization, decriminalization means that an activity is still illegal, but enforcement and penalties are not as severe. In some cases, police may turn a blind eye to certain behaviors. Individuals found breaking the law often face fines or civil charges instead of jail time or criminal charges.

Benefits of Treatment Over Incarceration

Hands holding prison cell barsTreatment may be provided while an individual is incarcerated; however, most correctional facilities are not able to provide any treatment.  Many times the approach used, though, is grounded in some form of punishment; therefore, treatment is most effective for individuals who are not incarcerated. Foundations Recovery Network’s statistics have shown 32.3% of our young adults (aged 18-25 years old) have legal problems (such as pending charges, probation) when they enter treatment. This statistic drops to 10% for any adults 26 years old and over. Clearly for young men or women, ages 18-25, it is more difficult to treat addiction with constant legal problems. For example, Florida’s state correctional facilities have reduced or eliminated 12-step programs.5 This happened even though there is no cost to facilities to provide the programs.

Research has also indicated that both age groups previously mentionedas well as FRN patients show significant improvement with legal involvement at the 1-year mark into their recovery.6 For example, young adults showed a 6% decrease with legal trouble, and older adults proved 1% decrease at the one year mark. There is also an 80% reduction in problematic legal activity for young adults and 90% reduction for adults 26 and older. These facts demonstrate that most individuals are turning away from their past issues and are also not re-engaging in criminal activity and the legal system.

Ways to Treat Drug Abuse

In many cases, drug courts are a good alternative to normal incarceration for drug abuse. Drug courts offer needed treatment services within a semi-punitive model. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals states that 75% of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free for at least two years after leaving the program.7

We at The Oaks believe everyone has the ability to change and heal. No matter where you are now or what you have done in the past, we accept you. We will not judge you. We are here for one reason and that is to help you move forward in your recovery. If you have any questions or would like some information, please contact us today at our 24-hour, toll free helpline. Our caring admissions coordinators can help get you started on your road to recovery. We are here for you, every day at any time. Take the step forward. Call us now.

1Approaches to Decriminalizing Drug Use and Possession.” Drug Policy Alliance. 10 Feb 2016. Web. Accessed 28 June 2017.

2 Volkow, Nora D. “Marijuana.” NIDA. April 2017 Web. Accessed 28 June 2017.

3 Brown, George and Washington, Troy. “Decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana ordinance passes city council committee.” WREG Memphis.  23 August 2016 Web. Accessed 28 June 2017.

4 Hopfer, C. “Implications of marijuana legalization for adolescent substance use.” NCBI. 2014 Web. Accessed 28 June 2017.

512-Step Addiction Treatment.” The Oaks Web. Accessed 28 June 2017.

6FRN Research Report May 2015: FRN Research and Outcomes One Year Post-Treatment.” Foundations Recovery Network Web. Accessed 28 June 2017.

7Drug Courts Work.” Web. Accessed 28 June 2017.


Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.