I have been critical of the movement to decriminalize pot. Now Slate has an article that shows decriminalization makes it more likely to cause interaction with the justice system for the offense especially for minorities.
Well, the great promise of decriminalization is that it will stop putting people in jail for minor offenses, right? And most states, when they decriminalize an offense, they eliminate jail as a potential punishment for it: The statute might say, for example, that the maximum penalty for marijuana possession is a $250 fine. However, if someone then fails to pay that $250, the courts can and often do take measures that result in incarceration anyway. For example, they can issue a failure-to-pay warrant. Or they can use the power of contempt to incarcerate people for failure to pay. In other words, they’re in contempt of the order to pay $250 and are jailed—not for the original marijuana offense but for being in contempt of that order. So, as a result, we see people all over the country being jailed for decriminalized offenses because they cannot afford to pay the fines and fees associated with them.
I believe it is the worst of both worlds. Decriminalization leaves the drug trade in the hands of criminal syndicates, with no oversight for health related issues. It allows them to work with a degree of impunity. It makes it more likely that someone will be cited since it will not go on the criminal record. It could affect future military service by putting short term use on the record and maybe financial aid, depending upon the current federal interpretation of punitive anti-drug rules. The state misses out on revenues from legalization, but the state absorbs the costs from wider drug use.
As usual, half measures rarely work. You either legalize or you do not legalize. Half measures feel good, but they are not honest policy. They do not work and create more problems. Decriminalization will just entrench the drug trade in poorer neighborhoods and increase sales among the middle and wealthier classes. It will give more money to drug dealers to buy guns to protect their wealth and more innocents will get caught in the cross fire. We should have a serious debate about the merits of legalization and prohibition. Splitting the difference is a cop out.