Criminalizing Cannabis Has Little Impact on Use

By David Jenison on January 10, 2018

Jeff Sessions wants to get tough on cannabis. Will it work? A new study in the International Journal of Contemporary Research and Review suggests it won't help much. 

States that treat cannabis offenses as a felony have lower average usage rates than those who treat them as a misdemeanor, but the difference is about one percent overall. Moreover, the slight difference might reflect cultural considerations, i.e., states with tougher prohibition laws are more likely to have a higher percentage of conservatives and churchgoers who avoid all or most substances in general.  

Per the study, past-month consumption rates were 14.58 percent in states that treat it as a felony compared to 15.79 percent in misdemeanor states. The only real jump came with states that treat cannabis possession as a petty crime, with usage rates reaching 19 percent. 

The researchers also found that "price per gram and residing in a state with large monetary fines and severe jail terms for marijuana possession had little influence on past-month marijuana consumption." They later added, "Residing in a severe penalty state for marijuana possession, personal use quantities was the weakest influencer on past-month marijuana consumption with almost zero effect."

The Missouri- and South Dakota-based researchers promoted every imaginable cannabis-harm claim, and they clearly endorse prohibition even if cannabis has medical benefits, which they begrudgingly acknowledged with several caveats. Still, even these anti-cannabis zealots understand that "to be effective, anti-marijuana policies must shift away from law enforcement policy and into the field of public health policy."

Photo credit: Flickr/Thomas Hawk.

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