1.4. Consensus View and Decriminalizing Laws

Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean

Another view of how laws become created is the consensus view, which implies consensus (agreement) among citizens on what should and should not be illegal. This idea implies that all groups come together, regardless of social class, race, age, gender (and so on) to determine what should be illegal. This view also suggests that criminal law is a function of beliefs, morality, and rules that are held equally by all members of society. [1]

One Child per Family Policy in China

In the United States, there appears to be a cultural consensus that parents should not kill their baby at birth because they wanted the opposite gender. If a person killed their child, murder charges would occur. At certain points in history in other countries, such as China, this behavior was prevalent, if illegal – but it was  not as deviant as Americans might believe. When the Chinese Government introduced a “One Child per Family” policy, there was a surge in female infanticide. There was immense pressure on families to have sons because of their higher earning potential and contributions to the family. Again, that line between deviance and criminality can often blur, especially when trying to gain consensus. Read the BBC article below for more information.
Read the BBC article below for further information.


Let take a consensus approach to legislation, but apply it to the process of decriminalization, or the removal of criminal penalties attached to a particular behavior. Can you think of any criminalized actions or behaviors that most Americans would liked to see decriminalized? Moreover, is the consensus view supported when there are significant differences in opinion based upon region, or religion – even if an absolute majority of citizens are in favor of decriminalization? that are currently criminalized, Some have proposed a hybrid between decriminalization and criminalizing behaviors, such as prostitution to ensure rights to prostitutes and punish offenders who harm them. [2] An act can be decriminalized at the State level, but not necessarily the Federal level.

Marijuana Legalization

One example of decriminalization that came from a vote of consensus in states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon was the legalization of recreational marijuana. Recently, Pennsylvania has shown signs of interest in not only the decriminalization, but the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. According to the latest Muhlenberg College Pennsylvania Health Poll, more than half of the state’s registered voters support marijuana legalization in the state, and only 25 percent opposed such legislation. Do these results support a consensus view of criminal justice policymaking? What if you learned that 80% of registered Democrats supported marijuana legalization, and 80% of Republicans opposed?

Support for Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Pennsylvania, Spring 2022

See the link below for historical results on this question in Pennsylvania:


  1. Dawe, A. (1970). The two sociologies. The British Journal of Sociology, 21(2), 207-218.
  2. Lutnick, A. & Cohan, D. (2009). Criminalization, legalization or decriminalization of sex work: what female sex workers say in San Francisco, USA. Reproductive Health Matters, 17(34), 38-46.


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1.4. Consensus View and Decriminalizing Laws Copyright © 2019 by Shanell Sanchez and Kate McLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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