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Federal marijuana laws that rely primarily on
criminal penalties and law enforcement are an ineffective policy tool to control
the use and sale of marijuana.
Marijuana Prohibition Does Not Produce
Stated Public Goals
Public policies are measured by their ability to produce intended results. The
stated goal of criminal marijuana prohibition is to deter marijuana use and
promote public health. Therefore, the success or failure of U.S. marijuana
policy must be evaluated by its performance at accomplishing these goals when
measured against specific drug use and public health indicators. If current
marijuana policy is to be judged as an effective public policy, then increasing
the arrest rate for marijuana should produce an intended reduction in several of
these key indicators, most importantly, the use and availability of marijuana
among the population.
Despite total US marijuana arrests increasing
165% during the 1990s, from 287,850 in 1991 to 755,000 in 2003, this enhanced
enforcement has not produced intended results, and in some cases, it has
produced opposite, unintended consequences. Upon review of the available data,
it is clear that increased arrest rates are not associated with reduced
marijuana use, reduced marijuana availability, a reduction in the number of new
users, reduced treatment admissions, reduced emergency room mentions, any
reduction in marijuana potency, or any increases in the price of marijuana.
How Much Does Marijuana Prohibition Cost
The U.S. Annually?
Increased marijuana enforcement is associated with greater fiscal and social
costs. State and local justice costs for marijuana arrests are now estimated to
be $7.6 billion, approximately $10,400 per arrest. Of this total, annual police
costs are $3.7 billion, judicial/legal costs are $853 million, and correctional
costs are $3.1 billion. In both California and New York, state fiscal costs
dedicated to criminal marijuana law enforcement annually total over $1 billion
for each state.
The Costs? The Benefits?
The social costs of criminal marijuana enforcement include demographic impacts
and their effects on society. Marijuana possession and sales arrest
disproportionately impact young males as well as black adults. These
disproportionate impacts nurture alienation from the rule of law. Among the
demographic groups most adversely impacted, males age 18 are .7% of the
population and 3.1% of annual marijuana users, but comprise 8.1% of all
marijuana possession arrests. Males aged 24 to 29 are 4% of the population and
9.7% of annual marijuana users, but comprise 13.7% of all possession arrests.
Black adults account for 8.8% of the population, 11.9% of annual marijuana
users, and 23% of marijuana possession arrests. Overall, 25% of marijuana
possession arrests are of people age 18 or younger, and 74% are for people under
the age of 30. Marijuana users who are white, over 30 year old, and/or female
are disproportionately unaffected by marijuana possession arrests.
Over One Million Teenagers In America Sell
Maybe of greater note and indicative of an unintended consequence in the U.S.
governmentıs marijuana policy-making: Over one million teenagers in the U.S.
Marijuana Policy Measured By ONDCPıs Own
Criteria Is a Failure
Policy analysis is about results. There is now ample data available to review
the performance of marijuana policy over the past decades, in particular the
years between 1990 and 2000. Based on the data presented in this report, it is
evident that present US marijuana policy is failing to achieve its desired
results when measured against key drug use and public health indicators, as well
as when evaluated by cost/benefit analysis.
Therefore, this report recommends the
commencement of a serious national debate over replacing the current prohibition
policy of marijuana control with a regulatory policy that provides legal access
to marijuana for adults and removes the profit incentive for sale among
By The Numbers: Marijuana Arrests and Use
in the United States
Despite nearly seventy years of expensive and rigorous government enforcement of
marijuana prohibition there is, until the issuance of this report from the NORML
Foundation, scarce amount of publicly available information on the scope and
cost of marijuana prohibition.
This report comprehensively demonstrates much
of what is not commonly known regarding who uses marijuana in the U.S., who gets
arrested for it, at what age citizens are arrested on marijuana charges and how
much are the general fiscal costs of maintaining marijuana prohibition.
Lastly, how does the U.S. government policy on
marijuana measure up against its stated goals and what are some serious-minded
policy alternatives which may largely achieve the governmentıs stated goals?
This comprehensive marijuana arrest and use
report and analysis includes:
marijuana arrest and use data;
- County-by-county arrest
- Comprehensive marijuana
sales data and sales arrest data;
- Detailed data and
graphical information regarding marijuana arrests and use in regards to
gender, race and age; information on state marijuana penalties, extensive
historical background information examining marijuana policy-making in the
United States circa 1972 and supporting citations.
Text of the entire report in PDF format
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