By any objective standard, marijuana prohibition is an abject failure.
Nationwide, U.S. law enforcement have arrested over 20 million American citizens for marijuana offenses since 1965, yet today marijuana is more prevalent than ever before, adolescents have easier access to marijuana than ever before, the drug is more potent than ever before, and there is more violence associated with the illegal marijuana trade than ever before.
Over 100 million Americans nationally have used marijuana despite prohibition, and one in ten – according to current government survey data – use it regularly. The criminal prohibition of marijuana has not dissuaded anyone from using marijuana or reduced its availability; however, the strict enforcement of this policy has adversely impacted the lives and careers of millions of people who simply elected to use a substance to relax that is objectively safer than alcohol. NORML believes that the time has come to amend criminal prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization, taxation, regulation, and education.
Only by enacting state and local legislation on the use, production and distribution of marijuana, can state and local governments effectively impose controls regarding:
• Which citizens can legally produce marijuana;
• Which citizens can legally distribute marijuana;
• Which citizens can legally consume marijuana; and
• Where, and under what circumstances, is such use legally permitted.
By contrast, the prohibition of marijuana provides law enforcement and state regulators with no legitimate market controls.
This absence of state and local government controls jeopardizes, rather than promotes, public safety.
For example: Prohibition abdicates the control of marijuana production and distribution to criminal entrepreneurs (e.g., drug cartels, street gangs, drug dealers who push additional illegal substances).
Prohibition provides young people with unfettered access to marijuana (e.g., according to a 2009 Columbia University report, adolescents now have easier access to marijuana than they do alcohol).
Prohibition promotes the use of marijuana in inappropriate and potentially dangerous settings (e.g., in automobiles, in public parks, in public restrooms, etc.).
Prohibition promotes disrespect for the law and reinforces ethnic and generation divides between the public and law enforcement (e.g., according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, 75 percent of all marijuana arrestees are under age 30; African Americans account for only 12 percent of marijuana users, but make up 23 percent of all possession arrests).
Legalizing and regulating adult marijuana use would raise revenue, promote public safety and limit the access that young people have to marijuana. These are goals that lawmakers and the public ought to support.
It's time to end 70-plus years of marijuana prohibition with a policy of legalization, taxation, regulation and education.
By Paul Armentano
April 20, 2010