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Marijuana decriminalization: argument for further steps

Marijuana decriminalization is a commendable step toward ensuring the likelihood of improved outcomes regarding pot-related matters in California and elsewhere across the country, but it is only a baby step, with further action yet required.

That is the bottom-line take from a recent national news piece detailing both the salutary effects and shortcomings of marijuana decriminalization laws that exist in many states, including California.

Pot decriminalization works in certain cases, typically those involving a relatively small amount of marijuana and an individual who seems reasonably engaged in behavior that is nonviolent and poses a low-level concern to public safety. The result for such a person in a jurisdiction that decriminalizes pot possession in select cases is that he or she -- if approached by a police officer, at all -- might be subjected to a fine/penalty akin to something close to a citation handed out for a parking infraction.

That is of course distinctly different from a criminal conviction, and something that is uniformly lauded by legions of proponents nationally who enthusiastically tout decriminalization.

As noted above, one national media outlet -- the Washington Post -- raises doubt as to whether decriminalization goes far enough toward ensuring the positive pot-related outcomes it is focused upon. The Post notes, for example, that decriminalization laws do not absolutely stop police officers from initiating citizen contacts, engaging in stop-and-frisk activities and ultimately becoming involved periodically in high-profile fatal shootings that become flash points in communities across the country.

As the Post states, citing DEA-supplied data, although aggressive enforcement sometimes yields fatalities, "nobody has ever died of a marijuana overdose."

Decriminalization is a positive thing, many criminal law commentators state, but it lacks as a policy intended to materially curb unfortunate police-citizen encounters.

"Legalization is really the big key," says a spokesperson for one drug policy reformist group.

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