The expanded use of marijuana has demonstrated harms to public health through increased drugged driving fatalities, workplace accidents, development of mental health problems, and public exposure to second-hand smoke. The harms are particularly acute for children and adolescents, those with mental illness, those with predisposition to addictions, and pregnant women.
The commercialization of marijuana leads to expanded marijuana use, as profit incentives lead marijuana companies to advertise high potency products with the maximum likelihood for heavy use and addiction. The goal of the marijuana industry is converting young, casual users into life-long, heavy users.
On the other hand, the criminalization of marijuana has had a negative effect in society, with disproportionate harm to minority and disadvantaged populations. Therefore, we at SAM reject this dichotomy of commercialization and criminalization. We pursue a middle ground that is aligned with scientific knowledge about the public health harms of marijuana.
State marijuana laws should discourage the use of marijuana, get those who need help back on their feet, and ensure that those who get help are not penalized for their past mistakes.
Accordingly, SAM staff have put together several key points to be addressed in model legislation. A pro-public health approach to state marijuana law reform should:
⁃ Provide alternatives to incarceration for personal use marijuana possession offenses, including citation instead of arrest, diversion programs, and appropriate fines that take into account economic means;
⁃ Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use;
⁃ Expand the use of conditional discharge by requiring its consideration;
⁃ Allow fines and cost of treatment to be waived for those without means;
⁃ Provide automatic expungement for first-time offenders who complete treatment or education program without further violations within one year;
⁃ Model penalties on Hawaii’s HOPE program for non-compliance with court-ordered treatment/recovery plan; and
⁃ Offer community services as an alternative to fines for those with severe financial hardship.
SAM Action works individually with each state to examine their existing legislative and political landscape and tailor these guidelines to best meet the needs of that state, much like we have done with New Jersey. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to start the conversation.