NORML Report on Sixty Years of Marijuana Prohibition in the U.S.
II. Marijuana Prohibition Is a Failure - Millions of Americans Smoke Marijuana Despite Laws Outlawing Its Use
Marijuana remains the third most popular recreational drug of choice in the United States despite 60 years of criminal prohibition. Only alcohol and tobacco are regularly consumed by a greater percentage of the population. Clearly, prohibition fails to eliminate or even significantly deter the use of marijuana among the American public.
It is time to put to rest the myth that smoking marijuana is a fringe or deviant activity engaged in only by those on the margins of American society. In reality, marijuana smoking is extremely common and marijuana is the recreational drug of choice for millions of mainstream, middle class Americans. According to the most recent data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly 70 million Americans have smoked marijuana at some time in their lives. 12 Of these, 18 million have smoked within the past year, and approximately 10 million are current smokers (defined as having smoked at least once in the last month). 13 In fact, HHS found that 57 percent of all current illicit drug users report that marijuana is the only illegal drug they have used; this figure rises to 77 percent if hashish (a more concentrated form of marijuana) is included. 14
A recent national survey of voters conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that 34% -- one third of the voting adults in the country -- acknowledged having smoked marijuana at some point in their lives. 15 Many successful business and professional leaders, including many state and federal elected officials from both political parties, admit they used marijuana. It is time to reflect that reality in our state and federal legislation, and stop acting as if marijuana smokers are part of the crime problem. They are not, and it is absurd to continue spending limited law enforcement resources arresting them.
Marijuana smokers in this country are no different from their nonsmoking peers, except for their marijuana use. Like most Americans, they are responsible citizens who work hard, raise families, contribute to their communities, and want to live in safe, crime-free neighborhoods. They are otherwise law-abiding citizens who live in fear of arrest and imprisonment solely because they choose to smoke marijuana for relaxation instead of drinking alcohol. Marijuana prohibition is a misapplication of the criminal sanction which undermines respect for the law in general and extends government into inappropriate areas of private lives.
Millions of Americans use marijuana; few abuse it. The government should limit its involvement in this issue solely to address and sanction irresponsible marijuana use. Responsible marijuana use causes no harm to society and should be of no interest to the federal government.