Decriminalization of Marijuana

The controversy surrounding the legalization of marijuana might not be as long as the history of this plant, but it nevertheless brings the attention of many people, who were divided between two different opinions regarding this issue. Taking the example of USA, where using marijuana is criminalized, a 2004 survey revealed that over 40% of the population have tried marijuana at least once (“Marijuana Use USA,” 2007). Criminalizing marijuana in the US while it is the most used illicit drug, obviously indicates that marijuana is an interdependent aspect that contributes to the functioning of the society. Taking the functionalist perspective, this paper analyzes the possibility of decriminalizing marijuana in the United States, predicting possible outcomes that might influence the society in terms of usage rate and economy. The paper argues toward possible positive outcomes based on studies conducted by sociologists in Amsterdam and San Francisco.

Brief History

The usage of marijuana has been documented from as early as 2000 years B.C., where it was used in medicine and recreational purposes. The roots of cannabis usage can be traced to China, where a treatise on pharmacology was attributed to the Emperor Shen Nung. The American roots of marijuana are traced to the 17th century where it was cultivated in North America as a source of fiber. The usage of marijuana as intoxicant has started in the late 19th century and in the United States in the early 20th century. The criminalization process of marijuana in the United States was initiated in the early 20th century, and although criminalization started as local policies in border towns and never brought much political attention, “the Secretary of the Treasury issued a decision under the Food and Drug Act prohibiting importation of cannabis after 1915 for other than medical purposes (National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, 2009). Taking different paces in criminalization in different states, the current situation imply federal criminalization of marijuana in all states. Nevertheless, certain states have exceptions in medical purposes, possession of small amounts, and the punishment.

Theoretical Connection

Taking the social approach toward the subject of this paper, it can be said that the functional perspective, also known as functionalism, reflects the direction of overall status quo in the society. This status is achieved by a particular social consensus, where the social control is based on outlining the functional purpose of each aspect in the society. Comparing the social systems in the US with other countries such as Netherland, where marijuana is legalized, the functional perspective in the latter is obvious, where social control agents base their judgments on the functions of marijuana, e.g. effect on economy, recreational purposes, and etc. In that regard, a rational perspective can be outlined in recognizing the functional purpose of marijuana. On the other hand, in the US, the social control is based on preserving the consensus of the society, which is presumably outlined by the judicial system, and ignores the functional perspective as it will be seen in the literature review.

Literature Reviews

Comparing the usage of marijuana in different legal contexts, and in almost comparable urban settings in Amsterdam and San Francisco, a study by Reinarman, Cohen and Kaal (2004) found that the regulation policies or their absence does not affect marijuana usage pattern. Moreover, confirming to the functional perspective it was found that the absence of correlation between marijuana use and drug policies might indicate that there is interdependence in the society, where people behave and accommodate their habits according to the existing norms and rules (Reinarman, Cohen, & Kaal, 2004, p. 841).

Accordingly, analyzing the possible effects of decriminalization in US setting, a study of the effect of marijuana decriminalization on the budgets of Massachusetts governments (Miron, 2002), found that the savings in criminal justice resources under the decriminalization of marijuana would provide an estimate of $24.3 million per year (Miron, 2002). Additionally, benefits to economy could be provided through taxation, where for example in California the sales of Marijuana reach $14 billion a year, which accordingly would have resulted in $1.3 billion in taxes (Stateman, 2009).


It can be seen through the studies that both cases, the decriminalization and the criminalization of marijuana, have similar effects on usage rate, while in the latter case the state is deprived of the potential economical benefits from such usage. It can be assumed that adjustments in the regulations’ rigidity will not affect the usage of marijuana either. Taking such industries as alcohol, tobacco, or even legal drugs, which bring similar controversy and disputes in the society, it can be said that state regulations and social control maintained the social consensus in the society while keeping the benefits in the economic sector. Thus, it can be assumed that the decisions taken regarding the regulations of the aforementioned substances were under the influence of factors that differ in context from the factors related to marijuana regulations, and thus require revisions.


Taking the functionalist perspective, it should be recommended that policy regulations regarding the usage of marijuana should be revised. As the consensus can be maintained in terms of marijuana usage, the decriminalization of marijuana would result in benefits that would contribute to the economic prosperity of the country. Nevertheless, such policies do not imply the absence of regulations that will provide the control over its usage and distribution.

It can be concluded, that the functional perspective outlines the rationality of certain legal decisions. Approaching the issue of marijuana legalization is specifically delicate, as it might result in particular opposition in the society. Nevertheless, the studies outline the need for the policies to be revised, rather than being abandoned.


  1. Marijuana Use USA. (2007). Alcohol and Drug Guide.
  2. National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse. (2009). History of Marihuana Legislation. Drug Library. Web.
  3. Reinarman, C., Cohen, P. D. A., & Kaal, H. L. (2004). The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and in San Francisco. American Journal of Public Health, 94(5), 836-842.
  4. Stateman, A. (2009). Can Marijuana Help Rescue California’s Economy?
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