Craig Reinarman, Peter Cohen, Sebastian Scholl , Hendrien L. Kaal
01 May 2004
Decriminalizing cannabis doesn't lead to more widespread use, according to a study comparing cannabis users in two similar cities with opposing cannabis policies — Amsterdam, the Netherlands (decriminalization), and San Francisco, California (criminalization). The study compared age at onset, regular and maximum use, frequency and quantity of use over time, intensity and duration of intoxication, career use patterns, and other drug use. No evidence was found to support claims that criminalization reduces use or that decriminalization increases use.
In "Has the time come to legalize drugs?" Andres Oppenheimer, the influential opinion maker about Latin American affairs at the Miami Herald, describes how the debate about cannabis regulation "is rapidly moving to the mainstream in Latin America." He quotes White House drug czar Kerlikowske who argues that The Netherlands proves that relaxation of cannabis laws increases consumption, and that the Dutch government is now reversing its strategy. That requires some rectification.
On Nov. 2, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, deciding whether to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. If the initiative passes, it won't just be momentous for California; it may, at long last, offer Mexico the promise of an exit from our costly war on drugs. The costs of that war have long since reached intolerable levels: more than 28,000 of our fellow citizens dead since late 2006; expenditures well above $10 billion; terrible damage to Mexico's image abroad; human rights violations by government security forces; and ever more crime.
In a dramatic shift of sentiment, nearly half of California's likely voters now want to legalize marijuana use in the state, according to a new Field Poll. Forty-nine percent of those likely voters now support Prop. 19, with 42 percent opposed. In a July poll, 48 percent of those surveyed planned to vote against the ballot initiative, with 44 percent backing legalization.
It's as predictable as the sun rising and setting. Even though police made more than 850,000 marijuana arrests last year, a recent government report shows youth marijuana use increased by about 9 percent -- 76 percent of Americans recognize the drug war has failed; millions are demanding change.
The CATO report estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. Of these savings, $25.7 billion would accrue to state and local governments, while $15.6 billion would accrue to the federal government. Approximately $8.7 billion of the savings would result from legalization of marijuana and $32.6 billion from legalization of other drugs.
The report reviews 20 years of data from US government funded surveillance systems on government drug control spending, cannabis seizures and cannabis arrests, in order to assess the impact of enforced cannabis prohibition on cannabis potency, price and availability. The report’s findings highlight the clear failure of cannabis prohibition efforts by showing that as the United States has dramatically scaled up drug law enforcement, cannabis potency has nevertheless increased, prices have dropped, and cannabis remains widely available.
Assume for a moment that California voters approve Proposition 19 on Nov. 2. The state will have just enacted a process for legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana use that no one else in the world has ever attempted. But Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s top law-enforcement officer, has said the administration will “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws in the country’s most populous state regardless of the vote. For all the trails that approving Prop 19 would blaze, much of its impact would depend on the extent to which Holder follows through on that threat.
A U.S. federal appeals court judge says the United States should consider legalizing marijuana. Judge Juan Torruella tells a law school audience in Puerto Rico that experimenting with legalization of marijuana and perhaps other drugs is a better way to reduce drug abuse and crime.
By a narrow margin, Arizona voters have given their OK to legalized medical marijuana for people with chronic or debilitating diseases. The decision makes Arizona the 15th state to approve a medical marijuana law. California was the first in 1996, and 13 other states and Washington, D.C., have followed suit.
After an annual survey of teen drug use nationwide found that marijuana smoking is on the rise among eighth- through 12th-graders, Kerlikowske attributed the uptick to California's Proposition 19 and other states' initiatives to legalize medical marijuana. "Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame," he said in a news release. "Such messages certainly don't help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs."
The campaign for Proposition 19, which lost 54% to 46% in November, wants to start drafting a new initiative in the spring and to complete it by July, turning then to the expensive and time-consuming task of building support and qualifying it for the November 2012 ballot. Prop. 19 lost support of defense attorneys and medical marijuana distributors; its backers hope to write a legal pot initiative with wider appeal. All sides agree it'll be a complicated endeavor.
The West Coast is a different world when it comes to progress on drug policy reform. Three of the four states most likely to see strong pushes for marijuana legalization in the next couple of years are on the West Coast (the other being Colorado). And medical marijuana is a fact of life from San Diego to Seattle. But it's not just pot politics that makes the West Coast different. The region has also been a pioneer in sentencing reform and harm reduction practices, even if countervailing forces remain strong and both policy areas remain contested terrain.
This week’s Economist-YouGov poll contains some exciting news for devotees of the weed. A huge majority of Americans, more than two to one once don’t knows have been excluded, support the legalisation and taxation of marijuana. Even without excluding the don’t knows, a clear majority favours treating the drug equivalently to tobacco and alcohol. The data (see chart) reveal some interesting patterns. In every age group, more people favour than oppose legalisation. If our poll is right, then it can only be a matter of time before laws start to change, at least in the more liberal states.
Some anniversaries provide an occasion for celebration, others a time for reflection, still others a time for action. This June will mark forty years since President Nixon declared a "war on drugs," identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1." As far as I know, no celebrations are planned. What's needed, indeed essential, are reflection -- and action.
Marijuana prohibition is more than a practical failure; it has been a misuse of both taxpayer dollars and the government's authority over the people. As the steward of reduced prosecutorial dollars, I am the first Seattle city attorney to stop prosecuting marijuana-possession cases and to call for the legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana for adult recreational use.
Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana are hoping to build momentum on Capitol Hill after a historic election that saw the politics of pot take center stage in four states. Forty-six percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, a new high, according to a survey conducted by Gallup in October. The trend has shifted upward in recent decades while opposition to such a move has declined. For medical marijuana use, the support is even higher. Seventy percent of Americans said they favored making marijuana for medicinal purposes legally available.
U.S. drug policy needs to be altered; legalization must be subject to serious debate. Legalization could eliminate illegal demand for Mexican marijuana and curb drug-related violence. Medical dangers of marijuana may be largely exaggerated. Economic costs and benefits should be balanced; legalization could reduce financial burden on the U.S.