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Reforming marijuana laws: Which approach best reduces the harms of criminalization?

As policymakers and the American public grow increasingly weary of the War on Drugs, marijuana reforms are gaining traction across the nation. A new analysis by CJCJ sheds light on the strengths and weaknesses of two approaches to marijuana law reform: decriminalization for all ages, versus legalization for people 21 and over.

The  analysis compares five states that implemented major marijuana reforms over the last five years, evaluating the reforms' impacts on marijuana arrests, racial disparities, and various health and safety outcomes. California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have decriminalized small quantities of marijuana for all ages, while Colorado and Washington have legalized small quantities of the substance for people 21 and older.

Key findings:

Given the consequences of marijuana arrest, including fines, jail time, a criminal record, loss of student loans and other federal aid, and court costs, getting arrested for marijuana use may be more harmful than the drug itself — at any age. The report recommends adopting the best of both approaches and moving toward full legalization. Further reforms, beyond marijuana policies, will be necessary to address egregious and persistent racial disparities.

Read the report >>

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