June 4, 2023
What is the problem?
The War on Drugs has lingering effects on our society today, such as broken window policing. Lingering effects such as broken window policing lead into a much bigger problem such as mass incarceration. But there are efforts being made to revert these effects. The idea of legalizing these low level drugs have lingered around in the nation as legalizing these drugs would bring down the rates of low level arrests. We will scope into the idea of legalizing weed as many of its points can be shared with other low level drugs. So far, “30 states and the District of Columbia have liberalized their marijuana laws to some degree, and a majority of states have recognized marijuana’s medicinal benefits and legalized marijuana for medical reasons” (Betsy Pearl, 1.) Comparing and contrasting the positives and negatives of low level drugs can help us determine if it is “arrest worthy” or not. While there may be many obstacles in this method such as problems in regulation, the clash between state and federal laws, and public health concerns, the benefits of providing safe alternatives can help reduce low-level crime arrest rates leading to a long lasting impact on Mass Incarceration.
“As a doctor, I was opposed to supervised injection facilities. Now I’m ready to give them a try.”
There are multiple ways of approaching reversing the effects of the War on Drugs. One way is to implement the idea of supervised injection facilities. Safe injection facilities are programs that allow people who would like to be under the influence to do so safely. Safe injection facilities would include medical professionals that would safely inject participants with a safe amount, reducing the risk of overdosing. Henry Dorkin, a medical professional that used to be against the idea of safe injection facilities, changed his viewpoint as it is a much safer alternative for those who want to partake in drugs. Benefits of safe injection facilities include having medical professionals on site “can facilitate pathways to treatment and rehabilitation from the chronic disease of opioid abuse disorder.” (Dorkin, 1.) There has also been an experiment done in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they reduced “overdose mortality by 35%” due to these facilities (Fitzgerald, 4.)
(Figure 1 displays if legalizing unharmful drugs becomes a thing, then safe injection facilities and syringe access programs can help decrease the % of deaths caused by fatal infections. Infographic was created by me, Brian Phan, utilizing a free template.)
What’s the hold up?
Solutions provided above all sit on one prerequisite, the legalization of non-serious drugs such as weed. However, there are complications in this process. Simply, we cannot snap our fingers and create something that was illegal into something legal. There are barriers present in our path to reducing the number of low level arrests that we must hurdle over.
(Figure 2 obtained from medcitynews.com, used to display that we have barriers we must overcome to help reduce Mass Incarceration.)
Regulation and Rules
One hurdle we must jump over are new implementations of regulation and rules. If non-serious drugs such as weed becomes legal, then there is a new product that requires regulation and rules. With the absence of a federal law making cannabis legal, there lacks one clear path to making weed legal. Many people may believe that it would be a straight forward solution, “just make weed legal.” However, there are many things states have to consider for making cannabis legal. “To the extent that residency matters, who is required to be a resident? Is it the license holder, the owner of the business, or an individual or entity that invests in the business? The answer is, it depends” (Swauger, 1). Since the answer to these questions is, “it depends,” every time a state makes a different decision from each other, it makes rules exponentially inconsistent. With inconsistencies with rules, there are also concerns with regulation. Currently, there has been efforts to regulate weed, however, “[e]xisting state regulation does not appear to consider the underlying potential risk associated with the use of these products or the potential impact of product composition and processing techniques on the potential toxicity of such products” (Swauger, 1). Efforts to regulate cannabis as of now is not at a level that is acceptable due to these potential toxicity of products. The barriers do not end here however, as there are many more rules we must consider to satisfy the public. Rules such as rules relating to driving while under the influence of weed must be addressed.
(Figure 3 is a image of regulation obtained at used for visual appeal.)
Driving while intoxicated
While there are efforts by individual states (Colorado, Washington, and Oregon) to develop rules to legalize weed, there are public concerns that must be addressed. There are many concerns with people driving intoxicated. Currently, there is a concern with people driving under the influence of alcohol. The legalization of weed would also add another influencer that could impair people’s ability to drive. However, studies have shown that “The risk of a road crash is smaller for cannabis-impaired than alcohol-impaired drivers because drivers who have used cannabis are less impaired and take fewer risks by virtue of being more aware that they are impaired” (Hall, 1). While the risk of cannabis drivers is less riskier than people who are drinking and driving, there is still a risk that has to be addressed. My solution is to help the public treat cannabis like alcohol, praising proper judgement and discouraging poor judgement. Currently in California, it is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Maintaining this rule is necessary as it discourages the use of driving intoxicated in general. The public concerns about marijuana are valid, but there cannot be a clear answer as currently, federal law states that it is illegal to use cannabis.
Federal vs State law
Currently, it is federally illegal to use cannabis. Federally legalizing cannabis will be a long journey, however, if we take a look at the states that allow cannabis, according to DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency), there are only four states that have cannabis completely illegal while the other states do have exceptions (Figure 4). Implementing practices such as safe injection facilities to states that have if legal can help us view the benefits of legalizing low level drugs such as cannabis. If we are able to see similar results as the results in the experiment done in Columbia (35% decrease in overdose fatality) then others of the public can be convinced to legalize weed. Starting with cannabis would be the first step, and slowly implementing these practices to other states can help the case of making cannabis federally legal. The push for a strong central federal law is important as it will help be a guiding point for many states to follow. It can clear up answers such as who can be allowed to own low level drugs more clearer.
(Figure 4 is up to date as of April 2023, displays that only 4 have it fully illegal while others either have it completely legal or have exceptions such as medical uses. Image obtained from DISA.)
What does the public believe?
It is a common belief that the public is against the legalization of weed. Before research, it used to be safe to assume that all drugs are bad as many were introduced to the phrase “say no to drugs” when they were younger. However, recent studies have shown that the majority support the legalization of weed.
Majority support the legalization of weed.
“Just one-in-ten U.S. adults say marijuana should not be legal at all”
Recently, pew research center has concluded that “just one-in-ten U.S. adults say marijuana should not be legal at all” (Green 1). Green also made the claim that only adults over the age of seventy five are likely to agree that cannabis should remain illegal. This may be because people who are older will have a firmer mindset, less likely to be open to change. Taking drugs have been seen negatively due to the way people were raised. Only recently, people have explored the idea that drugs may have benefits as well. For the first time in history, “a clear majority of Americans (58%) say the drug should be legalized” (Swift, 1). If we compare the numbers that Swift and Green has, we can see that between the years of 2013 and 2023 (comparing figure 6 and figure 5), there has only been an increase of support for the legalization of cannabis. One explanation for this increase is the benefits that drugs such as cannabis can provide.
(Figure 5 is a pie chart from PEW research displaying majority supports legalization of weed.) (Figure 6 is a graph which displays that in 2013, for the first time in history, those who support the legalization of weed became the majority. Graph obtained from .)
Benefits of the legalization of weed,
how can we make this happen?
One benefit of weed is being able to relieve stress and anxiety. Many people take it to destress and have fun with friends. It can also be taken similarly to when people drink alcohol to have fun. There is also medical benefits as “[i]n a 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, cannabidiol oil—a derivative of marijuana—reduced seizures by 39% in children with Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy” (MacMillan 1). It has also been able to relieve people from chronic pain and nausea. I believe that we should see weed similarly to alcohol, where it is normalized in events such as college parties. Personally, I have maintained a mindset of being sober and not drinking, and it is common to be called as “unfun” if others shared the same personality. Since alcohol is known to have cons as well, then drugs such as marijuana should be seen the same way as well. The only exception where cannabis and other low level drugs should be discouraged is when something responsible is happening such as driving or if a mother is having a baby. Like alcohol, it is up to the adult to make the decision, and like alcohol, balance and good practices is important. However, the main benefit of the legalization of weed that I would like to focus on is it’s impact on the issue of mass incarceration. While there are other crimes that get people imprisoned, low level drug use, such as marijuana, still makes up a big chunk of the prison population. The legalization of cannabis would heavily reduce the number of people getting incarcerated, and obtaining this goal requires one step at a time. First, experimenting with states that allow the use of marijuana implementing the safe injection facilities mentioned before will allow us to view beneficial results. If we get results like the experiment done in British Columbia, we can utilize this result to help convince others on the federal level to legalize weed. Another step would be to recognize the concerns that the public may have, which is the barriers we must jump across. Displaying to the public what the barriers are and how we can jump across them will help convince people at the federal level why legalizing marijuana may help the nation. Tackling subjects such as regulation issues and debunking public concerns can help provide reasoning for people in the federal level to legalize weed.
What’s the point of legalizing weed?
Why am I discussing the legalization of weed?
The global issue we are trying to tackle is mass incarceration. The legalization of low level drugs, such as weed, helps this problem by redirecting the attention of the police from low level crimes to higher level crimes. Legalization of low level drugs would reduce the arrest rates of low level crimes, meaning there would be less people imprisoned. While there are many hurdles that we must jump in the path to legalizing low level drugs such as weed, if we reach the finish line, it would help prevent many people from being imprisoned for low level crimes. This is a race worth running for. Jumping hurdles such as complications with rules, regulations, and public concerns and implementing new practices such as safe injection facilities will help us be able to legalize it to a federal level, directly lowering the arrest rates and fatality rates.
Hudak, John. “Reversing the War on Drugs: A Five-Point Plan.” Brookings, 9 Mar. 2022, .
The War on Drugs has caused multiple unforeseen consequences that are still affecting the country today. However, there are efforts being made to attempt to mitigate these effects. Firstly, apologizing for the actions caused during the War on Drugs and the role the US government had is one step in the right direction. An apology would allow for Biden to apologize for the actions of the previous presidents, sending a powerful message to the nation that they truly regret the actions carried out during the War on Drugs. This apology would also indirectly acknowledge the potential bias in the criminal justice system as the War on Drugs developed a tie between drugs and minorities. Another step would be to legalize non-serious drugs, for example cannabis. Looking at the pros and cons and determining whether it should be arrestable is one thing to look at. ⅔ of Americans support the idea of the legalization of weed. If cannabis becomes legal, this would lead to a decrease in “low level” arrests as still a majority of arrests are low-level arrests.
James E Swauger, “The Changing Face of Marijuana Regulation: Current Federal Status”,
Currently, there are complications with regulations as each state is trying to solve a different issue. Consistency with regulation between these states are an issue due to this. The reason why there are complications is because of an absence of a federal law, one law that all states agree on which would make it clear. First, we need to dispute the question, isn't it straight forward? “ To the extent that residency matters, who is required to be a resident? Is it the license holder, the owner of the business, or an individual or entity that invests in the business? The answer is, it depends.” (Utilizing this quote can help show the POV of states and the decisions they have to do.) Each different choice they make results in more inconsistency. This handles the rule category, however for regulation, “Existing state regulation does not appear to consider the underlying potential risk associated with the use of these products or the potential impact of product composition and processing techniques on the potential toxicity of such products.” There are potential risks about processing these products.
Besty Pearl, Maritza Perez. “Ending the War on Drugs.” Center for American Progress, 29 Oct. 2021, .
The War on Drugs has impacted many communities of color. One strong idea is to see substance use as a disease rather than a crime. The term crime associates people under the influence of low level drugs as criminals, rather than associating them with criminals, making them seem like people who need help can influence the public’s bias. Currently, the War on Drugs caused many people in the public to develop a correlation between people of color to drugs and criminals. Breaking this correlation is a big step to reversing the damages caused by the War on Drugs. Similarly to the article above, this article talks about the legalization of Marijuana, claiming that sixty eight percent of Americans support the legalization. LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) is a good step as rather than treating drug abuses as low level arrests, LEAD officers are empowered to “redirect individuals with substance use disorders to social services.” Another method proposed was to implement Safe-injection facilities. These facilities would inject legalized drugs to anyone who desires without the risk of overdose. This would prevent deaths and allow people to take drugs if they would like. Syringe access programs are also a good way to help prevent the risk of death when people are hooked to these drugs. Rather than people trying to use dirty, unsanitary needles, if they were provided access to clean syringes, then the risk of infection deaths would be mitigated.
Dorkin, Henry L. “As a Doctor, I Was Opposed to Supervised Injection Facilities. Now I’m Ready to Give Them a Try.” STAT, 13 Dec. 2017, .
Opposed against facilities as many medical professionals do not want to condone the use of drugs. Yet, after a debate, Henry changed his views as these injection facilities would make it safe. The benefits of having medial professionals on site is being able to have proper help whenever an emergency happens. The alternative would be to unsafely inject yourself with a dirty needle, which could lead to infections and even death. While he dislikes the idea of people using drugs, he can’t stand by and be okay with people injecting themselves being prone to opioids knowing there is a safer and better option. He also believes that this helps the public’s mission on harm reduction. Also included a report on an experiment implementing this idea and saw a 35% decrease in number of lethal overdoses in the area.
“5 Key Challenges of Legalizing Marijuana in Columbus Oh.” Steven S. Nolder, Attorney at Law, 2 Feb. 2023, .
Some complications include regulation, potential access for minors, issues with the black market, and federal vs state laws. Getting this to a federal level will be challenging and there must be regulation for this new legal product. Regulation includes taxes where buyers and sellers must comply. There is also a claim that not many are sure about the legalization of these drugs, whether it is a good idea or not.
“Home - PMC - NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/. Accessed 26 May 2023.
Talks about risks of legalizing non serious drugs such as weed. In terms of drinking and driving, a driver under the influence of cannabis compared to a driver under the influence of alcohol is smaller. Claims that drivers who have used cannabis before are less impaired and take fewer risks knowing they are intoxicated.
MacMillan, Amanda. “Pros and Cons of Weed-11 Possible Effects on Your Health.” Health, www.health.com/condition/chronic-pain/marijuana-benefits-risks. Accessed 26 May 2023.
Explains the benefits of taking weed. Will bring up the face value of legalizing weed but will also connect it to how legalizing weed will indirectly help with the problem of mass incarceration as well as supporting the majority that support the legalization. This source however won’t be the main focus of the paragraph. This will only represent the face values but the paragraph will focus on the relationship between legalizing weed and lowering low level crime rates.