by Jesse Levine | The HuffingtonPost
I’m not asking you to condone marijuana. I’m asking you to accept the fact that arresting people for marijuana has not decreased the use of marijuana.
If you worry about young people using marijuana, growing more rebellious, and becoming lost — the fact that policing marijuana has failed will be upsetting. However, if we cannot accept the glaring fact that law enforcement has failed to control the distribution and use of marijuana, then we risk punishing hundreds and thousands of people, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars, unnecessarily.
In New York City the police increased arrests for marijuana by about ten fold in the last fifteen years. New York City Police arrested about five hundred thousand people for marijuana possession since 2000. Meanwhile, marijuana use rates remained consistent. Arresting more people for marijuana did not make less people smoke marijuana.
In California, medical marijuana was legalized in 1996. However, a study by the Attorney General’s office showed that — after medical marijuana — rates of marijuana use actually decreased among young people. Legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes did not cause more people to smoke marijuana — if anything it caused less people to smoke marijuana.
Finally, the Dutch have allowed the sale and personal use of marijuana to adults for 30 years and they have use rates far below those in America. A country that does not arrest, or ticket people for marijuana has lower rates of use then our country.
These examples show that America’s law enforcement has failed to control marijuana’s availability or rates of use. The Police can make our society safer but not by arresting people for marijuana possession.
The silver lining to the story of law enforcement’s failure is that we no longer need police to waste time on marijuana possession. We can safely predict that removing law enforcement from California’s marijuana policy would not cause more use. If the Netherlands and California’s experiment with medical marijuana are an indicator then marijuana use could in fact go down after legalization.
Employing law enforcement to control marijuana costs California too much. In the last ten years 850,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in California and most of them were young. Getting arrested is traumatic, has long term consequences, arrest patterns are racially biased, and it all costs the state money.
People sitting on the fence about proposition 19 remind me of people stuck in dysfunctional relationships. They know they should end the relationship but are plagued with anxiety about the future. I’ve tried to relieve some fear about legalization so that you might understand more clearly how futile and destructive marijuana prohibition is and why it should be ended. Prop 19 is down in the polls but the race is close. Please go end the states dysfunctional relationship with marijuana prohibition.
Jesse Levine is Associate Researcher for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project