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Decriminalization vs Legalization of Drugs

There is much discussion all over the world about the legalization and decriminalization of drugs. In the last decade, marijuana has been legalized in several countries. But what does this all mean for the world? How will decriminalization efforts impact the ongoing drug epidemic, and how will it impact those struggling with addiction?

Before we answer these questions, it’s important to understand what legalization and decriminalization actually entail. Many of you are wondering, do they mean the same thing?

What is Legalization?

Legalization is the act of a substance becoming permissible by law. In other words, it means that a once-banned substance is no longer illegal. People can use the substance without worry of being convicted or fined. However, there may be some restrictions set forth with the legalization of a drug, in efforts to keep users safe. For example, law may require you to be a certain age to use the drug. Government may also limit the amount that a person may carry or possess. In addition, suppliers (such as retail stores) may need licensure in order to sell the substance, like we’ve seen with cannabis.

What is Decriminalization?

Decriminalization is the act of removing any criminal sanctions against a certain drug, including its use or possession under a specified amount. A decriminalized drug is still illegal, but the punishment for it is much less harsh. For example, those found in possession of the drug (in a small amount) would not be incarcerated. Instead, they may be reproached with a civil fine, drug education, or drug treatment. Meanwhile, the production, dealing, and sales of decriminalized drugs is still prosecutable by law.

What is the Difference Between Decriminalization vs. Legalization?

Decriminalization is not synonymous with legalization. Legalization means that a once-banned drug is made legal, under the law. Decriminalization means that a once-banned drug is still prohibited by law, but the legal system will no longer prosecute or criminalize a person for carrying under a certain amount.

Decriminalization ensures that drugs remain controlled and regulated. It also can promote a clearer path to professional drug treatment, for those struggling with substance abuse. However, this is up for some debate. While decriminalization reinforces the importance of drug treatment, it may lead more people to use drugs, without fear of harsh punishment.


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