Prohibition-Oriented Policies Do Not Deter Adolescent Marijuana Use, Study Says “The data provide no evidence that strict cannabis laws … provide protective effects”

Bethesda, MD: The enforcement of strict anti-cannabis laws is not associated with a reduction in the prevalence of adolescent marijuana use, according to international survey data to be published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

Investigators from the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands reviewed the self-reported use of marijuana and alcohol among nearly 5,000 10th graders in all three nations. Researchers reported that youth cannabis rates “did not differ across countries” despite widely disparate legal policies.

In the United States, 33 percent of 10th grade boys and 26 percent of 10th grade girls reported using cannabis during the past year. In Canada, where marijuana is similarly prohibited but anti-pot laws are seldomly enforced, 32 percent of boys and 31 percent of girls said they’d used marijuana in the previous year. And in the Netherlands, where the sale of cannabis is legally regulated for those over 18 years of age, 29 percent of 10th grade boy and just 20 percent of girls said that they had used pot in the past year.

“Surprisingly, there was little evidence of correspondence between cannabis prevalence and policy,” authors determined. “These data are consistent with reports showing that [the] use of cannabis is no higher in the Netherlands than in the United States, and inconsistent with the demand theory idea that strict laws and enforcement prevent adolescent cannabis use. More importantly, the data are inconsistent with the contention that decriminalization policies encourage adolescent cannabis use.”

Investigator concluded: “The data provide no evidence that strict cannabis laws in the United States provide protective effects compared to similarly restrictive but less vigorously enforced laws in place in Canada, and the regulated access approach in the Netherlands. Given the cross-sectional nature of the research, the data provide no evidence of a causal association between national policies and substance use.”

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: Full text of the study, “Cross-national comparison of adolescent drinking and cannabis use in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands,” will appear in the International Journal of Drug Policy.