Researchers Find Marijuana Prohibition Plays No Role in Deterring Pot Use

Data from the United States and abroad indicates that removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession will not lead to increased drug use, according to findings published this month by the British Journal of Psychiatry.
“The available evidence suggests … that removal of criminal prohibitions on cannabis possession (decriminalization) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana or any other illicit drug,” authors found. Their study noted that a far greater percentage of Americans age 12 and older (33 percent) report having tried marijuana as do their Dutch counterparts (16 percent), despite the fact that open sale and possession of pot is permitted in the Netherlands. Dutch figures also indicated that decriminalization appears to have had “some success” separating pot from the hard drug market, thereby reducing the number of marijuana users who try other illicit drugs. The study is one of the first to draw cross-sectional comparisons of drug use among Americans and non-Americans of identical age groups.
Similar findings were noted in countries with alternate versions of marijuana decriminalization. Empirical data from Italy and Spain, which decriminalized possession of all psychoactive drugs, indicate that their citizens use marijuana at rates comparable to neighboring countries that maintain strict prohibition.
The authors concluded: “Our judgment, based on review of the research literature, is that at present the primary harms of marijuana use (including those borne by non-users) come from criminalization. … This prohibition inflicts harms directly and is costly. Unless it can be shown that the removal of penalties will increase use of other more harmful drugs, … it is difficult to see what society gains [from prohibition.]”
NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. praised the study’s findings, noting that it joins a long list of prestigious commissions and study groups that have reached the same conclusion. “The U.S. National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (the Shafer Commission), the LeDain Commission in Canada, and the Wooten Report in United Kingdom all agreed that we should stop arresting responsible marijuana smokers. The data today, just as it did then, overwhelmingly supports the removal of criminal penalties for the personal possession and use of marijuana.”
The study, which was sponsored by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, appears in volume 178 of the British Journal of Psychiatry.
For more information, please contact R. Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.