U.S. Government Data Shows That Marijuana Prohibition Has “Clearly Failed To Achieve Its Stated Objectives”

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 7, 2010

    The increased enforcement of criminal marijuana prohibition has failed to reduce marijuana use and access in the United States, according to a report released today by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy.

    The report — based almost entirely on published U.S. government data — finds that increased funding for marijuana law enforcement is not associated any demonstrable reduction in marijuana availability, arrests, potency, or “rates of cannabis-related harm.”

    The following excepts are taken from the report’s executive summary and conclusion.

    Tools for Debate: US Federal Government Data on Cannabis Prohibition
    A report of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy

    In the last several decades there has been a remarkable increase in US federal and state funding for anti-drug efforts, with the annual overall federal anti-drug budget as reported by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy increasing by more than 600% (inflation adjusted), from approximately $1.5 billion in 1981 to more than $18 billion in 2002 (the last year the budget was consistently reported). While only a portion of this budget funded programs specific to cannabis prohibition, increased federal and state funding nevertheless coincided with a greater than 150% increase in cannabis-related arrests and a greater than 420% increase in cannabis-related seizures between 1990 and 2006.

    The limitations of cannabis prohibition in the US, however, are demonstrated by federally funded surveillance systems which show an approximate increase of 145% in estimated cannabis delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content between 1990 and 2007, despite the dramatic increase in funding to anti-drug efforts. Furthermore, evidence of prohibition’s failure to reduce the supply of cannabis is demonstrated by the estimated decrease of approximately 58% (inflation adjusted) in the retail price of US cannabis between 1990 and 2007.

    The limitations of US cannabis prohibition are further evidenced by the ease with which American youth report being able to obtain the drug. According to US drug use surveillance systems funded by the US National Institutes on Drug Abuse, over the last 30 years of cannabis prohibition the drug has remained “almost universally available to American 12th graders,” with approximately 80–90% saying the drug is “very easy” or “fairly easy” to obtain. The failure of prohibition to reduce cannabis supply is also demonstrated by the fact that roughly 60% of school-aged US youth who use cannabis report having obtained their most recently used cannabis for free or having shared someone else’s. Interestingly, rates of cannabis use among American youth do not inversely correlate with levels of funding for cannabis prohibition. Instead, the estimated annual prevalence of cannabis use among US grade 12 students rose from 27% in 1990 to 32% in 2008, whereas among 19- to 28-year-olds it went from 26% in 1990 to 29% in 2008.

    While it has been argued that rates of cannabis use would be higher if strict criminal penalties were not in place, this argument is inconsistent with available scientific evidence which indicates that patterns of drug law enforcement are not strongly correlated with rates of cannabis use.

    … Given that cannabis prohibition has clearly failed to achieve its stated objectives and has also resulted in a range of serious unintended harms, regulatory models should be given urgent consideration, both in the United States and in other settings. … In light of the widespread and often free availability of cannabis that exists despite extremely costly criminal justice measures, successfully reducing rates of cannabis-related harm will likely require the implementation of strict regulatory measures which are associated with reducing the harms of other legal substances and are too commonly underutilized in the areas of tobacco and alcohol control.

    Full text of the study, as well as links to the power point and video version of the report may be accessed here.

    The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), based in Vancouver, Canada, is “an international network of scientists, academics, and health practitioners committed to improving the health and safety of communities and individuals affected by illicit drugs.”

    37 responses to “U.S. Government Data Shows That Marijuana Prohibition Has “Clearly Failed To Achieve Its Stated Objectives””

    1. kenny says:


    2. Ben says:



    3. Ben says:

      ***420% increase in cannabis-related seizures***


    4. Dreadhead1229 says:

      How many more studies are going to come to this same conclusion before we finally see the government repeal their stupidity? (well, at least this part of it anyway…)

    5. Brandon C says:

      Keep on failing “War on Drugs”! It MUST end at some point! Too bad it has to end like this.

    6. Wayne Phillips, Communication Director, Educators For Sensible Drug Policy Hamilton, Ontario says:

      Thank you science! Activists have been saying this for decades now only to be brushed off as the lunatic fringe. Now we all see who the true lunatics are and why.

      “[M]arijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could.” That was true when US conservative author and commentator, William F. Buckley, Jr., first stated it and it is true today.

    7. Mike Stroup says:

      The drug war is not a failure; rather it works perfectly for its intended purposes. It generates billions of dollars for government agencies at all levels, employing millions of people. It created and supports whole industries such as drug testing, and has enhanced the drug rehabilitation industry. The drug war also protects other industries such as tobacco and alcohol, and even legal medical drug companies. It also protects the lumber and oil industries. The drug war even drives this Nation’s foreign policy. The drug war also funds gang violence at home and terrorists abroad, creating even more American jobs needed to combat these threats. The drug war also has the added benefit of conveniently side stepping Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and liberties, allowing givernment to control even the most intimate facets of citizen’s lives, increasing government’s control. The drug war also guarantees a ready supply of drugs for children, guaranteeing an endless supply of new participants to support the prison industry, lawyers, law enforcement, etc. The drug war also provides government the opportunity to marginalize those considered undesireable, take away their ability to vote, find employeement, get an education, take their children, sieze their property, etc. Who in their right mind could possibly want to do away with this cash cow, and return to a time when there was no illegal drug use in this country?

    8. Louie says:

      Of course it has failed – and – so have those who gotten on the circus train with them. Now lets try something that works. Shit or get off the pot!

    9. JDNCGAZ says:

      And now the truth comes out again.When is the government going to work for the people again and not all of the special interest groups and corporate intities.LEGALIZE< TAX < REGULATE < AND EDUCATE < this is the solution.Either that or complete prohibition on all drugs including pharmacutical drugs .And especially alcohol and cigarettes.

    10. Pot Nero says:

      The prohibition machine will simply use this data to prove that the war on drugs is not big enough, or viscious enough, or that penalties are not stiff enough…what else would they say..they have NEVER looked at any other reports with ANY intellectual honesty, why would they start now? There is too much money to be made in prohibition. Save your seeds and hide your weed, we got a long way to go.