In an historic first, on August 10, a major Latino group – the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) – called for the decriminalization of cannabis at both the state and federal level, affirming the importance of decriminalization as a way to fight the war on drugs that targets minorities.
This announcement represents the first major national Latino group to make such an effort. “Marijuana policy in this country has disproportionately targeted Latinos from the start,” NHCSL president and Pennsylvania State Representative Angel Cruz said. “Research shows that the benefits of legalizing cannabis range from taking advantage of its medicinal benefits, increasing tax revenues for health and education, to lowering crime while at the same time reducing disproportionate incarceration of minorities. The NHCSL believes that our laws should focus on ending the current lawlessness of the black market and allow sound public policy based on scientific evidence to prevail on the issue of cannabis,” Cruz said.
Colorado State Representative Dan Pabón, the sponsor of the resolution who chairs the NHCSL’s Task Force on Banking, Affordable Housing and Credit, said that he was “proud to stand with my fellow Latino legislators in taking a strong position in favor of common sense cannabis policy.”
“In Colorado, we have successfully legalized cannabis and we have been able to reduce crime by 10.1 percent, increase revenues by more than $300 million that we dedicated to our schools, and have a new thriving industry that creates jobs.”
Decriminalization has increasingly become part of a new policy approach to drug possession and use across the U.S., often becoming a first step to more extensive legalization efforts. Decriminalization was part of the recent bill by Cory Booker, “The Marijuana Justice Act of 2017”, which called for descheduling marijuana nationally, and was hailed as one of the most far-reaching marijuana legalization bills ever been filed in Congress.
Some countries have been using decriminalization policies since the early 1970s.
According to a report from Release, a think tank organization, “A Quite Revolution: Drug Decriminalization Policies in Practice Across the Globe,” in the past ten years, a new wave of countries have moved toward the decriminalization model, suggesting “growing recognition of the failures of the criminalization approach and a strengthening political wind blowing in the direction of an historic paradigm shift.”
In 2011, a decriminalization policy model got major endorsement when the Global Commission on Drug Policy published its report, “War on Drugs”, which discussed the failure of the global war on drugs.
While many critics believe that decriminalization will result in dramatically increased drug use and an increase in overall societal harm, there are benefits. According to the report, decriminalization does appear to direct more drug users into treatment, reduce criminal justice costs and shield many drug users from the devastating impact of criminal conviction.
And since many U.S. states have laws prohibiting those convicted of criminal offenses from voting, and the vast majority of those who are criminalized for drug offenses are African-American and other minorities, this level of disenfranchisement can have a significant impact on the outcome of both local and national elections, according to the report.
Many countries have addressed decriminalization in recent years: Argentina introduced a new decriminalization bill in 2012; the Czech Republic formally decriminalized possession in 2010; and Mexico, which decriminalized possession in 2009 following a period of drug cartel violence that killed up to 50,000.
According to the report, studies conducted in the 1970s to assess the impact of decriminalization on the prevalence of cannabis use in four decriminalized U.S. states indicated slight but statistically insignificant increases in cannabis use among the adult population. Following the decriminalization in California, the total cost of cannabis enforcement declined from $17 million in the first half of 1975 to $4.4 million in the first half of 1976.
Over the same time period, states with harsh penalties experienced larger and statistically significant increases in the prevalence of use.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), as of September, 2017, 22 U.S. states have decriminalized possession of cannabis, leading to legalization of adult use and personal cultivation in eight states. Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina have decriminalized possession, but still classify it as a misdemeanor. In most states where it has been decriminalized, offenses are treated like minor traffic violations.