The current legal regime, as contained in the “Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (control) Act”, against the possession of small amounts of marijuana attempts to prevent a low quantum of harm to society at a very high cost. In other words, the costs imposed on the health care and welfare systems by marijuana use are negligible compared to the costs associated with enforcing current marijuana possession laws.
Specifically, the provisions that mandate imprisonment as punishment are not appropriate in the circumstances. The societal interest in prohibiting marijuana possession must take into account, on the one hand, the burden that marijuana use imposes on the health care system, and, on the other, the costs incurred by society because of enforcing the current laws. A cursory observation shows that the costs imposed on the health care system by marijuana are negligible compared to the costs associated with enforcing the current imprisonment regime. While this opinion is based on observations, the state, via the Parliament, should fund and commission empirical studies to ascertain the extent of this, so as to be guided accordingly and act proportionately with respect to the penalties imposed.
Additionally, it can be argued that the current laws stand in violation of the harm principle and civil liberties of individuals. As postulated by John Stuart Mill in his seminal work On Liberty: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
In this regard, a criminal sanction of imprisonment should be reserved for those whose conduct causes a risk of harm to others and infringes on the rights or freedoms of other individuals. The choice of using marijuana is a strictly personal decision, because it is the individual who suffers the change in perception, mood and state of consciousness brought about by the use of marijuana. It is the individual who deals with the consequences of his or her decision, without disturbing or affecting the rest of society. This becomes more so admissible when taken together with the establishment of similar legislation as the recently signed Tobacco Control Bill that prohibits public smoking.
It is time that our policy makers enact legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Society of Marijuana Advocates for Reform and Treatment (SMART)