legalization | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Legalization is the process of removing legal restrictions or prohibitions on a particular activity or substance, effectively making it legal to engage in or use.

Contrast with decriminalization 

To understand legalization, imagine a set of rules similar to the rules of a game. These rules are known as laws, and they define what actions are permitted and which are not. When an action or substance is legalized, it means the rules have been changed. The action or substance that was once banned is now allowed. This doesn’t mean there are no rules – often, new rules are put in place to control how the action or substance is used.

Where and When Legalization Can Happen

Legalization can take place on many different levels. It can happen in a small town, across an entire state, or even throughout a country. The process can involve various activities or substances. Examples could include drugs, gambling, prostitution, or even same-sex marriage. Essentially, anything that was once against the law can be legalized.

The Legalization Process

Changing the law isn’t an easy task. It often involves either taking away laws that make something illegal or making new laws to control it. Think of it like changing the rules of a game. If a rule is causing problems or isn’t needed anymore, it can be removed. If a new rule is needed to keep the game fair and safe, it can be added.

The Controversy

Just like with any change, there’s often disagreement about whether legalization is good or bad. Some people support legalization because they believe it can lead to more freedom, fewer crimes, and more money for the government through taxes. Others oppose it, thinking that it can cause harm to society, such as addiction or health problems.

Effects of Legalization

Legalization can lead to various outcomes, and these can differ based on the situation and place. For instance, when marijuana was legalized in some U.S. states, it led to more money for the government through taxes and fewer arrests related to marijuana. However, in other places, there were more instances of driving under the influence and other negative effects. Therefore, it’s important to consider the possible outcomes before deciding to legalize an activity or substance.


In summary, legalization is a complex process with potential benefits and drawbacks. It involves changing the laws to allow activities or substances that were previously banned. Legalization can lead to increased personal freedom, reduced crime, and increased government revenue. However, it can also lead to societal harm. Understanding the potential impacts of legalization is essential for informed decision-making.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/29/2023

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