Last Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of marijuana being decriminalized in Philadelphia, making it the largest city in the United States to do so.
And since the drug’s decriminalization in 2014, marijuana possession arrests have decreased by about 80 percent, keeping about 7,000 people from entering Philadelphia’s criminal justice system and saving the city about $9 million, according to a report from philly.com.
Philadelphia and its citizens have clearly benefited from decriminalization. The rest of the country should learn from Philly’s example. Marijuana should, at the very least, be decriminalized in all 50 states, and eventually legalized altogether.
“There is a widespread perception that marijuana is illegal and should stay illegal,” said Linn Washington, a journalism professor who will teach the class “Marijuana in the News” next semester. “Politicians see themselves as losing very valuable political capital by standing up for legalization.”
“There is a mantra and mindset in politics that you have to be tough on crime,” Washington added.
But luckily there seems to be a shift in this attitude occurring across the country. Washington, D.C. and 25 states have already legalized marijuana for medicinal use, and two states — Colorado and Washington — have both legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Still, marijuana remains listed as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
A Schedule I drug must meet the qualifications of “having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use … under medical supervision,” according to the DEA.
Perhaps this classification is outdated. Half of the states in the country allow marijuana to be prescribed to treat diseases and medical ailments, and not a single death caused by overdose of marijuana has been reported, according to the DEA’s factsheet on the drug. And according to a 2014 CDC report, less than 12 percent of total marijuana users were deemed dependent on the drug — not a number large enough to constitute what I think is a high potential for abuse.
While the DEA may still list marijuana as a Schedule I substance, government leaders may be signaling a necessary change in this regard.
During his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of 774 federal inmates charged with non-violent, drug-related offenses. Six of these sentences for marijuana-related offenses were commuted just this month.
“I think within his heart he knows that keeping it on Schedule I and under prohibition is the wrong thing to do financially, scientifically, criminologically,” Washington said.
Marijuana clearly should no longer retain Schedule I status. And the current ban on the drug doesn’t seem to be detracting people from marijuana use anyway — a gallup poll that was released last week states that 60 percent of Americans support legalization.
Just last week, about 300 people gathered in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to smoke marijuana in celebration of the city’s decriminalization of the drug two years ago. This “Pop-Up Weed Garden” was organized by local activists, including Chris Goldstein, who will help Washington teach his class next semester.
Clearly, marijuana use is growing in popularity and becoming more widely accepted by the general public. Washington said he’s heard about more and more students who smoke, as well.
Marijuana legalization would allow people who are already using the drug to do so legally, and would additionally benefit the U.S. economy and our criminal justice system.
These benefits, however, can’t be enjoyed nationwide if states and even cities vary in their laws regarding the drug.
Philadelphia has benefited from decriminalization. Now it’s time other cities and states make this leap too. And hopefully in the near future marijuana will be completely legalized throughout the entire country.
Matt Rego can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @MattRegoTU.