Cannabis Prohibition Doesn’t Deter Cannabis Use

Posted: December 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have a new editorial in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch arguing, among other things, that cannabis prohibition has been laughably ineffective at keeping people from using the substance:

However, these arrests serve little purpose, as they do not appreciably deter people from using cannabis. When cannabis was first criminalized in the United States in the 1930s, the number of users was vanishingly small. Now, according to a 2008 study from the World Health Organization, 42.4 percent of America’s adult population has used cannabis. That’s more than twice the rate of the Netherlands, where cannabis use is almost fully legalized.

Moreover, young adults are more likely to use cannabis than any other age group. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that in Missouri nearly a quarter of adults ages 18 to 25 used cannabis in the past year, and nearly 15 percent of young Missourians break the state’s cannabis laws at least once a month. Cannabis prohibition has utterly failed to keep Americans — and young people, in particular — from using the substance.

Contrast the explosion of cannabis use under prohibition with rates of cigarette smoking — a habit that is treated as a truly private matter for anyone over 18 years of age since public health campaigns first began highlighting tobacco’s dangers in the 1970s. According to Gallup polling data, 40 percent of Americans smoked cigarettes in the 1960s and 1970s, but by 2008, only 21 percent of Americans reported lighting up in the previous month.

The article’s publication was fortuitously timed, as the latest Monitoring the Future Study was released just yesterday, and its finding back up my arguments. From the study’s press release:

Marijuana use among teens rose in 2011 for the fourth straight year—a sharp contrast to the considerable decline that had occurred in the preceding decade. Daily marijuana use is now at a 30-year peak level among high school seniors.


Alcohol use—and, importantly, occasions of heavy drinking—continued a long-term gradual decline among teens, reaching historically low levels in 2011.

So we are having great success combating teen alcohol abuse, despite the fact that alcohol is a legally regulated product and available to anyone over 21 years of age. On the other hand, cannabis prohibition leaves its distribution to the criminal market, where dealers are extremely unlikely to check IDs and law enforcement lacks the transparency of oversight. The evidence is clear: if you are worried about teen cannabis use, you should support its legal regulation.


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