Discussions about illicit drugs can often hinge on misunderstandings about terms. This confusion is glaring when words such as “decriminalization,” where drug possession is no longer criminalized, and “legalization,” legalizing the sale of drugs like heroin or cocaine, are used interchangeably.
The Great Debate
What would legalizing marijuana in California, America’s most populous state, mean to the drug cartels whose fight for access to American markets have turned parts of Mexico into war zones? Shrinking profits? Certainly. Less violence? Maybe.
Between 1971, when Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs, and 2008, the latest year for which official figures are available, American law enforcement officials made more than 40 million drug arrests. That number roughly equals the population of California, or of the 33 biggest U.S. cities.