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The argument for marijuana decriminalization without legalization

Tracey Marx Bernstein
Senior Producer

Despite the ongoing federal and local debates on marijuana legalization, the investment world remains excited about the industry’s prospects, especially companies such as Tilray (TLRY) and Aurora Cannabis (ACB), which are slated to report earnings late Tuesday.

As the legal debate wages on, some argue the largely recreational drug should be legalized while others want to keep weed classified as a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and meth).

The advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) pushes for a middle road approach, aiming for decriminalization without risking any unintended consequences of full legalization.

“We hope that everyone knows that no one should be incarcerated or get a criminal record or arrested for marijuana use or possession that is something most people are aware of now,” Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Will Jones told Yahoo Finance’s yFI AM (video above). “We’re not supporting legalization. We think the support for it is overstated.”

U.S. Capitol Police arrest several marijuana advocates after they smoked marijuana in front of the U.S. Capitol during their protest on Monday, April 24, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Jones added that his group is working with politicians in several states, focusing on those who “really care about social justice and want to see criminal penalties removed, want to see expungements.”

SAM believes non-violent drug offenders should not have to worry about criminal records that would prevent them from participating in our communities and be able to obtain a good job. In practice, the non-profit discourages use of marijuana while also supporting ways to avoid criminal penalties.

‘I am actually afraid that is exactly what we are going to do’

Cannabis is the third most popular recreational drug (behind tobacco and alcohol) in the U.S., used by nearly 100 million Americans, according to the marijuana advocacy group NORML.

“When we are talking about the commercialization of marijuana and people say we’re going to regulate it like alcohol, I am actually afraid that is exactly what we are going to do,” Jones said.

The state of marijuana in the U.S. (Photo: Reuters)

The Drug Policy Alliance in January published a call to remove marijuana from the controlled substances list. It cited the "limited potential for abuse, established medical uses, and [that marijuana] is safe relative to other substances.”

Jones, an activist, explains when you dig into the polling many voters don’t know the difference between decriminalization and legalizing marijuana.

Furthermore, he argues legalization leads down a slippery slope.

“Commercialization which is really cultivating addiction for profit companies who target youth or communities of color like mine,” said Jones. “When I walk out the front door of my house the first store I get to in any direction is a liquor store. If I go a little farther I’ll get to a convenience store which is blasted with advertisements of alcohol, for tobacco. And that’s the reality for millions of people.”

Read more: Weed CFO: The IRS tax code is 'crippling' and 'devastating' for us

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