Legalization of Recreational Use of Marijuana: The Criminal Justice Policy

Despite numerous attempts to address the issue of the recreational use of marijuana, it still remains one of the most hot-button issues on the national agenda. After numerous discussions and heated arguments, as well as an impressive number of court cases, the use of recreational marijuana was finally allowed in 23 states and the District Columbia (23 legal medical marijuana states and DC, 2015). Nevertheless, the subject matter still remains one of the most debatable issues (becker, 2015). Although the arguments against the use of recreational marijuana, which appeal to the need to maintain the rates of safety of the population high, seem quite legitimate, the prohibition of the specified substance can be viewed as infringement of the rights of patients, who need medicinal marijuana to relieve their pain; therefore, the current tendency towards the acknowledgement of medicinal marijuana as a legitimate treatment method can be viewed as positive and should be encouraged.

Literature Review

A range of scholars agree that the idea of permitting the use of recreational marijuana is a rather risky step (Dunkin, 2014). However, the issue of allowing the use of cannabis is traditionally viewed as problematic and rather convoluted due to the fact that it touches upon not only medicine but also a variety of societal and health issues, such as the possibility of patients’ health state deterioration (Dunkin, 2014), the need to provide patients with their right to use the medicine that will help get rid of pain, etc. Herein the key complexity lies; apart from concerning the criminal issues, the subject matter also concerns the problems related to health and human rights.

Studies show that the attitudes towards the use of recreational marijuana have been changing consistently and rather significantly over the past few decades (Jenks v. State of Florida 1991). First and most obvious, the case of Jenks v. State of Florida (1991) (Jenks v. State of Florida 582 So.2d 676 – Fla.App. 1 Dist. 1991.) should be brought up as the pivoting point in the development of the justice system and allowed for making people more lenient towards the idea of using cannabis for healthcare purposes. The fact that the line was finally drawn between the reasonable use of cannabis, which could be sanctioned by the U.S. legislation system, and the unlawful usage thereof can be viewed as a major breakthrough.

However, it would be wrong to assume that the case in point has fixed everything, and no controversies whatsoever may emerge in the contemporary legal setting as far as the use of cannabis is concerned. According to the recent study conducted by Cohen (2015), significant friction between what is considered right by the present-day justice system and what is viewed as legitimate in the society exists. As Cohen (2015) explains, the complexity of the dilemma can be explained by the fact that the decision of either permitting or prohibiting the use of the specified drug is rooted deeply in the political ideology of the decision-makers: “should medical marijuana be exempted from scientific review and, instead, be evaluated by the Congress, state legislatures, or popular vote?” (Cohen, 2015, p. 41).In other words, the choices that the parties involved are going to make are likely to be highly dependent on the opinions and prejudices that are currently viewed as dominant and, therefore, define the attitudes of people to the issue under analysis.


Much to the credit of the U.S. government, a range of compromises have been made in the course of fighting for the rights of patients, who are in need for painkillers such as cannabis (these typically involve terminally ill people, e.g., cancer patients). Although a compromise has not yet been reached between the proponents of allowing the recreational use of cannabis and the ones, who view marijuana as a perpetuate source of threat to the society, a major progress can be observed. The progress in question can be attributed not to the fact that the consumption of cannabis has finally been permitted, but the fact that the usage of the specified substance, as well as its production, selling and further use is finally supervised by the law; therefore, presumably, no illegal actions may be carried out in the created setting. Arguably, the tool, which the U.S. legislation has introduced as the means to control the use of marijuana and reduce the rates of its illegal consumption, have not led to stellar results yet. Indeed, drug peddling still exists () and is not going away anytime soon. However, the fact that the state has finally acknowledged the problem and started taking control of it can be considered significant progress on the way to eliminating the instances of drug abuse.


The reconsideration of the use of marijuana on a legislative level will have to be carried out with the interests and rights of all stakeholders in mind. Particularly, the rights of the people, who are in desperate need for painkillers and cannot possibly stand their pain without resorting to the use of marijuana deserve to be brought up. Seeing that marijuana can be viewed as a tool for relieving patients from pain and, thus, should be considered a form of medicine, it can be assumed that preventing the use of marijuana means preventing patients from retrieving their medicine. As a result, the abolishment of medicinal marijuana use can be considered a serious infringement of the specified patients’ rights.

As a result, the step in question can be viewed from the perspective of the U.S. Constitution, particularly, the Tenth Amendment, which states that each of the residents of the United States is entitled to a set of irrefutable rights. Particularly, the specified regulation can be used as the basis for the argument regarding the legalization of medicinal marijuana, as it states clearly that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” (CRS annotated Constitution, 2015, par. 1). Thus, the prohibition of the use of medicinal marijuana for the patients, who are classified as those in need for the specified substance as a painkiller may be viewed as an attempt to infringe the rights of the denizens in question. Consequently, the adoption of the policy on the constitutional level seems a legitimate decision and a major foot forward in the evolution of the American legislation system.

Public policy

The public policy regarding the use of medicinal marijuana differs significantly from state to state. However, a tendency for people’s opinions to unify towards the provision of recreational marijuana to the people requiring it can be observed (). The aforementioned phenomenon can be attributed to the influence of media on the development of the public opinion. Indeed, by using social media, especially social networks, as the means of getting a message across, the proponents of the legalization of marijuana contribute to the promotion of the aforementioned cause (Pardo, 2014).

It should be noted, though, that the tendency mentioned earlier is comparatively new. A range of conservative members of the U.S. population have been against the introduction of the legal marijuana use in the current U.S. legislation system.Despite the possible rights infringement as far as patients with cancer and other issues, the arguments of the people, who are against the introduction of the use of medicinal marijuana into the present-day legal system of the United States are quite valid, too. Specifically, the threat of creating the premises for an increase in the rates of drug peddling and drug abuse, not to mention drug-related crimes, deserves to be mentioned: “One of the key unknowns in the debate over legalization concerns the relationship between alcohol and marijuana use. Researchers have attempted to produce causal estimates of this relationship by exploiting cross-sectional policy and price variation” (Anderson & Reese, 2013, p. 1). Indeed, driving under the influence is one of the numerous concerns that will have to be addressed in case marijuana is legalized statewide.

Therefore, the process of shaping the public policy regarding the use of medicinal marijuana is going to be rather complicated. Changing people’s opinion regarding the issue as controversial as the use of recreational drugs is quite complicated. However, as it has been stressed above, the promotion of the specified message in modern media, especially social networks, will help alter people’s attitudes to the dilemma, therefore, making them view the debatable issue from a different perspective and realize that the denial of change will inevitably lead to infringing the rights of terminally ill patients, who are in need for medicinal cannabis.

Effects of Public Policy on Internal Criminal Justice Operations

Seeing that the changes, which are made to the state legislation, are carried out by the representatives of people’s opinion and needs, it is reasonable to assume that the change in people’s opinions regarding a specific issue will only lead to the corresponding changes in the state legislation. While it would be wrong to assume that fundamental changes to the state law are going to occur, the issues such as the recreational use of marijuana may be revisited with the following alterations in the way that the fundamental criminal justice operations are conducted.

The shift in the treatment of medicinal marijuana, which is the case in point, also follows the above-mentioned paradigm. Once the concept of marijuana legalization was introduced into the framework of the state’s legal system, significant changes occurred to the internal criminal justice operations. To be more exact, the latter have been shaped so that the process of providing patients with recreational marijuana could be simplified and at the same time the specified drug could not be available to the rest of the population. In other words, the rules have been shaped so that the threat of drug peddling could be eliminated yet recreational marijuana could be provided. Particularly, the internal criminal justice systems of some states are now different in terms of the use of medicinal marijuana compared to the ones that are applied on a countrywide level.

Moreover, the changes in the state legislation and the following permission for patients across the United States to use recreational cannabis are likely to lead to the necessity to introduce a system of registering the buyers. The specified step will be required to make sure that no possible frauds should occur:

States may vote for the creation of a registry system to ensure that medical marijuana patient and caregivers are known to public officials or to allow law enforcement to confirm that an individual is entitled to possess or use medical marijuana. There are a number of variations in the way registry laws were written that may affect access, availability and enforcement. (Pacula, Hunt, & Boustead, 2014, p. 3)

The specified change is rather reasonable; however, it is likely to lead to a range of new complexities. For instance, the creation of a database that will contain the patients’ personal data in complete security will be required. On some level, the introduction of the laws allowing for the use of medicinal marijuana can be viewed as the tool for splitting the current legal system; in the worst case scenario, the above-mentioned challenges may pose a threat to the integrity thereof. Specifically, a range of internal criminal policies regarding the use of marijuana as a recreational drug may emerge, deviating from the policy that is accepted on a statewide level.

Effects of Criminal Justice on Social Justice

A single glance at the ways, in which social justice and criminal justice evolve, is enough to realize that the two concepts have a reciprocal effect on each other once planted in the environment of societal interactions. By promoting a certain idea to the target population with the help of the corresponding laws and regulations, one is likely to bend the social opinion on a certain subject. However, being quite persistent, public opinions on a certain issue may also affect the decisions that are made by the representatives of the specified population on a community-wide or an even statewide level. The same phenomenon can be observed in the environment of criminal justice, especially once a hot-button issue such as the recreational use of marijuana is addressed. For instance, the current criminal justice policy, which allows the recreational use of marijuana in a range of American states, has bent the idea of marijuana consumption, making people more tolerant towards the concept of using marijuana as a painkiller.

Indeed, with the adoption of the corresponding regulation allowing recreational use of medicinal marijuana in the states such as Colorado, the attitudes towards the idea of using marijuana as treatment have become much more lenient to the concept in question (). One must admit, though, that the phenomenon of medicinal marijuana does not sit well with most physicians; according to a recent study, most therapists are inclined to believe that the consumption of the drug is likely to have deleterious effects on the patients: “Despite a high prevalence of use in Colorado, most family physicians are not convinced of marijuana’s health benefits and believe its use carries risks” (Kondrad & Reid, 2013, p. 52). Nevertheless, the changes in the social justice policies are obvious; most people believe that the use of marijuana can be justified by the patient’s health state and diagnosis (A marijuana attitudes survey – report summary, 2013). The changes in question can be viewed as a graphic example of the effects, which changes in the criminal justice policy have on the social justice. By making medicinal marijuana legal, in some of the states, the American authorities have contributed to the promotion of tolerance for the use of recreational marijuana.

Reference List

23 legal medical marijuana states and DC. (2015). Web.

A marijuana attitudes survey – report summary. (2013). Web.

Anderson, D. M., & Reese, D. I. (2013). The legalization of recreational marijuana: How Likely is the worst-case scenario? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 1(1), 1–11.

Becker, S. (2015). 7 states on the verge of marijuana legalization. The CheatSheet. Web.

Benmaamar, R. (2014). Colorado: a first in the USA for legal sale of marijuana. Lancet Oncology, 15(2): 55.

Cohen, P. J. (2015). Medical marijuana: The conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology. Utah Law Review, 1(1), 35–104.

CRS annotated Constitution. (2015). Web.

Durkin, A. (2014). Legalization of marijuana for non-medical use: Health, policy, socioeconomic, and nursing implications. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 52(9): 22–26.

Jenks v. State of Florida 582 So.2d 676 – Fla.App. 1 Dist. 1991.

Kondrad, E., & Reid, A. (2013). Colorado family physicians’ attitudes toward medical marijuana. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 26(1), 52–60.

Pacula, R. L., Hunt, P., & Boustead, A. (2014). Words can be deceiving: A review of variation among legally effective medical marijuana laws in the United States. Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, 7(1): 1–19.

Pardo, B. (2014). Cannabis policy reforms in the Americas: A comparative analysis of Colorado, Washington, and Uruguay. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(4), 727–735.