Study: Tough Drug Laws Don't Reduce Usage Rates

By David Jenison on April 6, 2019

The Drug War doesn't work. That's not exactly a newsflash, but yet another clinical study put another exclamation point on the obvious.

Alex Stevens, a Criminal Justice professor at the University of Kent in England, analyzed World Health Organization (WHO) survey data on cannabis use by more than 100,000 teenagers in 38 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Russia, France and Germany. Stevens utilized the same data used in a 2015 study that claimed liberal cannabis policies led to higher rates of teen use, in addition to leading to all kinds of diseases and conditions that the prior study associated with the "most commonly used illicit drug in the world."

Stevens published his findings in the International Journal of Drug Policy, and despite the shared data, the professor's study found no association with liberal cannabis policies and higher rates of teen use. So why the disconnect?

Stevens used "a larger and more theoretically relevant sample of the [survey] respondents, and an improved statistical model shows that the [survey] data do not reveal a statistically significant association between policy ‘liberalization’ and higher odds of adolescent cannabis use."

Or to paraphrase Science Daily, the authors of the 2015 study misinterpreted their own numerical results. Dr. Stevens accounted for gender differences, excluded variables with missing data (e.g., number of siblings) and utilized more of the available survey data (e.g., including countries like Sweden that the 2015 study did not). These changes eliminated any perceived increase in teen use based on the WHO data.

"My new study joins several others which show no evidence of a link between tougher penalties and lower cannabis use," said Dr. Stevens, who added, "The harms and costs of imposing criminal convictions on people who use cannabis do not seem to be justified by an effect in reducing cannabis use."

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