Legalizing Drugs and Addiction, Plus What We Can Learn from Across the Globe
During this election cycle, Americans across party lines seemed to greenlight measures to make drugs accessible in some states and decriminalize drugs in other states. And what we know from world-wide studies is that as efforts are made legalizing drugs, addiction increases because more and more people are open to trying the drugs.
Voters in our nation’s capital joined a handful of cities that recently decriminalized plants containing psilocybin, the key ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms. And in Oregon, voters approved a measure that legalized using psychedelics at licensed facilities to treat people with mental health concerns.
What Happens After the Legalization of Drugs?
Stores in Oregon won’t sell the drugs, and shops in Washington, D.C. won’t carry shrooms. Essentially the votes decriminalize possession of the drugs, meaning the penalties for possession in limited quantities aren’t criminal.
In Oregon for example, if you’re busted with certain amounts of the drugs, you will receive a $100 citation. It’s similar to receiving a speeding ticket. Plus the fine could be waived if you agree to an addiction assessment.
Four states, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona, joined 11 others that already legalized recreational marijuana. Plus, Mississippi and South Dakota voted to make medical marijuana legal, bringing the total to 35. 2
The Perks of Decriminalizing These Drugs
Advocates point to the perks of decriminalizing drugs when pushing for reform like the ones we saw in this election.
Decriminalization of Drugs Leads to Advances in Medicine & Science
Researchers say decriminalizing drugs gives them the freedom to explore the benefits of certain drugs for people with a variety of ailments.
For example, some researchers claim that the psychedelic drug psilocybin can help treat depression post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 4 Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research is looking into the use of psilocybin for treating everything from smoking addiction and eating disorders to Alzheimer’s disease. 3
Social Implications of Drug Decriminalization
It’s undeniable that there are some positive social implications when drug possession is no longer punishable by jail time.
Because we know people of color are disproportionately arrested for drug-related crimes, decriminalizing possession could also lead to the end of unfair enforcement and roll back mass incarceration. Advocates point to these changes as a way to pay for treatment and counseling. There will be major savings for states not housing inmates on drug charges and convictions.
Budgets, Taxes, and More
And since so many states are looking for a boom amid the pandemic, some have turned to cannabis to prop up their budgets. Though not every state who has legalized marijuana has found it to be the big tax boost they’d hoped.
Legalizing Drugs and Addiction Impacts
It’s yet to be seen what, if anything, happens now that possession of some of these drugs has been decriminalized or legalized for scientific study. But among opponents, there is a concern that we’re starting down a slippery slope.
Before something becomes fully legal, often there is a rebrand of its image and a decriminalization process.
For example, the steps to legalizing weed started with transforming it from a recreational drug to medication. Once the masses saw the drug in a new light, it was much easier to legalize it. 2
That’s not to say marijuana and drugs like heroin, meth, and cocaine are necessarily equaled in terms of addictive properties or health impacts. Many argue marijuana is a safe, casual drug. However, in places like Colorado, the negative impacts of regular marijuana use are still well documented. 5
The negative impacts include:
- Decreased ability in complex decision-making
- Increases in deadly car wrecks
- Adverse effects on cardiovascular and pulmonary systems
- Inadvertent exposure to children
- Hash-oil burn injuries in preparation of drug concentrates
World-Wide Data Indicate Social Challenges for Drug Users
Studies around the world on the use of cannabis and social outcomes have some disturbing findings. A study of Swedish men that started when the men were age 18 to 20 and followed them until they were 40, showed an increased risk of unemployment and a greater need for welfare assistance. Similar results were found in New Zealand, where researchers tracked people from birth until they were 25-years-old. Researchers found the use of large amounts of cannabis was linked to poorer educational outcomes; lower income; greater welfare dependence and unemployment; and lower relationship and life satisfaction. 5
What We Can Learn From Portugal and the Decriminalization of Drug
With the passage of a law in 2001, drug dealers still go to prison on drug charges in Portugal. But users caught with no more than 10-days’ worth of drugs, even heroin, are typically sent to see a group composed of a doctor, a lawyer, and a social worker. 6 During the meeting, the person caught with the drugs hears about treatment options and the medical services available to them. This sort of access to information and help for marginalized groups is key to breaking their addiction.
In Portugal, the authorities don’t delineate drugs into categories like “hard” or “soft” drugs, and they don’t deal with drug use differently if the drugs are consumed in public or privately. The focus is on addiction and offering help.
Some believe that by eliminating criminal penalties and perhaps some of the stigmas around drug use, those who use drugs have an easier time accessing treatment. And while national data shows more people have sought treatment, data show more people have experimented with drugs since 2001. 6
What Happens Now in the US
What the vote in Oregon shows us is that voters want to not only decriminalize drug possession. They also want to funnel money toward treatment. The ballot that decriminalized even the hardest drugs will simultaneously pay to fund a new network of treatment, recovery, and harm reduction services. The money will come from the tax on legal cannabis sales and from the savings of not policing and incarcerating users. 1
Addiction is a serious issue around the world and requires help from a variety of sources for the person struggling with addiction.
At Clear Life Recovery, we believe freedom from addiction is possible. We treat people struggling with addiction to alcohol and drugs, including marijuana, heroin, and opioids. Contact us today to get started on your path to recovery.