Prohibition hasn’t solved anything. People in the 1920’s were able to access alcohol, prostitution hasn’t dissolved, professional athletes still access performance-enhancing drugs.
The effect of prohibition is to criminalize a behaviour, leaving often unwanted side effects when practices are not controlled. The impact of prohibition on cannabis is no different.
Let us explore how prohibition plays out. A common example can be found in the sex trade industry, in which prostitutes are often forced into the sex trade, and often don’t have a way out. The effect of prohibiting the sex trade has made it a particularly dangerous trade for prostitutes because they cannot hire security and cannot operate within an office of their own. Because of this, prostitutes are constantly in danger and don’t necessarily have the means to protect themselves.
A similar effect happens with hard-drug addiction such as cocaine and heroin, where because there is no controlled, subsidized or even legal source, addicts resort to crime to acquire the drug. This often puts people into either jail or rehab: two places that don’t always have the ability to rehabilitate users. As well, the reuse and sharing of needles for prohibited drugs only accelerates the spread of common, blood-borne pathogens such as Hepatitis C and HIV.
This is where the medical system should come into place. Allowing medical professionals to prescribe heroin gives addicts a second chance. It allows them to be functional within society and relieves them from resorting to criminal activity to acquire a banned drug.
The medical system can provide a safe space to take the drug in rationed levels and systematically provide support, helping people to overcome their addiction at a realistic pace. These practices reduce crime and give addicts a chance to get out of poverty.
Vancouver is the first city in Canada to allow the prescribed use of heroin. Before them, many countries in the European Union and the United Kingdom have access to prescription heroin.
A similar message exists with medical marijuana.
Prohibiting the use of marijuana does not stop people from acquiring the drug. Instead, people resort to criminal activity to acquire what they want — and sometimes need.
One argument against legalizing medical marijuana is the idea that it will increase crime rates within the country. Science has yet to prove that crime rates go up or down when marijuana is legalized, with many studies finding both positive and negative results.
A study published in the journal PLoS One by Robert G. Morris et al from the University of Texas explored many sides of the debate surrounding medical marijuana use.
“The effects of legalized medical marijuana have been passionately debated in recent years. Empirical research on the direct relationship between medical marijuana laws and crime, however, is scant and the consequences of marijuana use on crime remain unknown,” the study said.
The study looked at crime statistics from 1980 to 2006, showing the difference in seven major crimes between states that passed medical marijuana legislation and those that difference. As the study predicted, all of the major crimes would decrease in prevalence between 1980 and 2006, but in general found that medical marijuana legislation was “not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault.”
It’s important to note that this study was only a statistical analysis, and cannot account for human behaviour or biological changes from drug use.
Morris’s study does run counter to the argument that medical marijuana legislation would increase crime.
In this case, prohibition will not protect the country, and could lead to more criminal activity than if it were legal. In fact, a study by Marian Shanahan and Alison Ritter found that the cost of criminalizing marijuana far outweighed the cost of legalization when comparing the costs of policing and criminal penalties with the costs of regulation.
That said, the journal PLoS One is the biggest peer-reviewed journal in the world, publishing more than 31,000 articles last year. Since the journal started in 2006, it has only published 8 articles about marijuana.
Prohibition is not always the answer—it often just leads to more crime, and is often dangerous for marginalized populations that are more affected by substance abuse or are victimized by prostitution.
Legalization and regulation are still the best protection against harmful practices and substance abuse that will exist regardless of the prohibition laws in effect.