The concept of marijuana legalization has gone in and out of vogue over the past 20 years, as several states, have decriminalized its possession and use. Some describe the cause of decriminalization in the 1970s as a wave of permissive liberalism. This is hardly the case, however.
In the early 1970s, a presidential commission chaired by the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Raymond P. Schafer, called for federal decriminalization and eventual legalization, regulation, and control of marijuana (National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, 1972). The commission concluded that marijuana should be decriminalized. In 1977, Senator Jacob Javits and Representative Edward Koch introduced a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana.
Today, government surveys estimate the number of regular marijuana users at about 11.8 million (NIDA, 1988). The cost of pursuing and punishing 11.8 million marijuana users, if that is all there are, would be enormous, both financially and societal.
The alternatives include: (1) continue the present system of catching a few and making examples of them; (2) fully decriminalize the possession and use of marijuana in private by adults, as 11 states have attempted to do; or (3) legalize, regulate, and control marijuana, a substance that DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young called "the safest therapeutically active substance known to man" (Young, 1988).
Another option, actually only an expansion of the current system, would mean arresting, prosecuting, and punishing a significant percentage of the estimated 11.8 million regular marijuana offenders. In 1988, law enforcement authorities made 1,155,200 criminal arrests for all drug offenses (FBI, 1989). Of these, more than 324,000 arrests were for simple possession of marijuana (FBI, 1989).
It is unreasonable to increase by 12 times the number of drug arrests made annually, and add the proportionate amount of resources to the criminal justice system, simply to crack...