Decriminalization of non-medical cannabis in the United States

Decriminalization of non-medical cannabis in the United States
United States non-medical cannabis decriminalization laws (as of January 2009) Note: Federal law bans all forms of cannabis and THC as a schedule I drug, as per the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
  State-level decriminalization of non-medical cannabis proposed
  No type of decriminalization of non-medical cannabis proposed

Attempts to decriminalize cannabis in the United States began in the 1970s. Several jurisdictions have subsequently decriminalized cannabis (also referred to as marijuana or marihuana) for non-medical purposes, as views on cannabis have liberalized, peaking in 1978.[1] The decriminalization movement supports efforts ranging from reducing penalties for cannabis-related offenses to removing all penalties related to cannabis, including sale and cultivation. Proponents of cannabis decriminalization argue that a substantial amount of law-enforcement resources would be freed, which could be used to prevent more serious crimes, and would reduce income earned by street gangs and organized crime who sell or traffic cannabis. Opponents argue that cannabis on street level today has a much higher percent of THC with a stronger drug effect and that decriminalization will lead to increased crime, increased cannabis usage, and subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs. Gonzales v. Raich, 2005 ruled in a 6-3 decision that the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution allowed the federal government to ban the use of cannabis, including medical use.



U.S. cannabis arrests from 1965 to 2008.

Multiple states, counties, and cities have decriminalized cannabis. Most places that have decriminalized cannabis have civil fines, drug education, or drug treatment in place of incarceration and/or criminal charges for possession of small amounts of cannabis, or have made various cannabis offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement. A few places, particularly in California, have removed almost all legal penalties for marijuana possession, including personal cultivation with a prescription from a licensed physician.[citation needed]

After the 1960s, an era characterized by widespread use of cannabis as a recreational drug, a wave of legislation in United States sought to reduce the penalties for the simple possession of cannabis, making it punishable by confiscation and a fine rather than imprisonment or more severe charges.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon commissioned a study on cannabis use from the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse.[2] The Commission found that the constitutionality of cannabis prohibition was suspect, and that the executive and legislative branches had a responsibility to obey the Constitution, even in the absence of a court ruling to do so. The Nixon administration did not implement the study's recommendations. However, the report has frequently been cited by individuals supporting removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.[citation needed]

In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis possession.[3] By 1978 Alaska, California, Colorado, Mississippi, New York, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Ohio had some form of cannabis decriminalization.[4] Certain cities and counties, particularly in California, have adopted laws to further decriminalize cannabis.

In 1974, A Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. James O. Eastland on The Marihuana-hashish epidemic and its impact on United States security state that evidence accumulated by scientific researchers on cannabis had turned dramatically against this drug.[5][6]

Attempts to decriminalize cannabis

In recent history, there have been multiple unsuccessful attempts to decriminalize cannabis:

In 1974 Dr Robert DuPont, the White House drug czar, began to publicly support decriminalization of cannabis, seeing cannabis as a health problem. But when DuPont left government he changed his mind and declared that "decriminalization is a bad idea".[7] Robert DuPont is still an active proponent to decriminalization of cannabis. [8]


On November 7, 2000, voters in Alaska rejected Measure 5 by 60–40 percent. Measure 5 would have removed civil and criminal penalties for use of cannabis or other hemp products by adults age 18 and older and would have regulated the sale of cannabis similar to the sale of alcoholic beverages.[9]

On November 2, 2004, voters in Alaska rejected Measure 2 by 56–44 percent. Measure 2 would have prompted the state legislature to tax and regulate cannabis, and would have removed criminal penalties for cannabis use by adults aged 21 and older.[10]


In November 2010, Arizona voters accepted Proposition 203, with 50.13% in support.

In January 2011, Republican first-year Arizona legislator John Fillmore introduced House Bill 2228. This bill would decriminalize marijuana possession of 2 ounces or less to a petty offense with a penalty of no more than a $100 fine, similar to the laws in Colorado, California, etc.


In 1972, Proposition 19 was introduced, which would have legalized cannabis statewide; it was rejected by 66% of the voters.[11] The initiative read as follows:[12]

(1) No person in the State of California 18 years of age or older shall be punished criminally, or be denied any right or privilege, by reason or such person's planting, cultivating, harvesting, drying, processing, otherwise preparing, transporting, or possessing marijuana for personal use, or by reason of that use.

(2) This provision shall in no way be construed to repeal existing legislation, or limit the enactment of future legislation, prohibiting persons under the influence of marijuana from engaging in conduct that endangers others.

On January 1, 1975, Senate Bill 95[13] made possession under one ounce of cannabis for non-medical use punishable by a $100 fine; stricter punishments exist for amounts exceeding an ounce, possession on school grounds, or subsequent violations or for sale or cultivation. If the offender is under the age of 21, his or her driver's license may be suspended for up to one year.[14]

In Mendocino County, voters in 2000 approved Measure G, which called for the decriminalization of marijuana when used and cultivated for personal use.[15] Measure G passed with a 58 percent majority vote, making it the first county in the United States to declare prosecution of small-scale marijuana offenses the "lowest priority" for local law enforcement. Measure G does not protect individuals who cultivate, transport or possess marijuana for sale. However, Measure G was passed at the local government level affecting only Mendocino County, and therefore does not affect existing state or federal laws. The city of Berkeley has had a similar law since 1979 which has generally been found to be unenforceable.[16]

On June 3, 2008, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors placed Measure B on a county-wide ballot. Voters narrowly approved "B", which repealed most of the provisions of 2000's Measure G.[17][18] On July 3, 2008, the Sheriff and District Attorneys offices announced that they would not be enforcing the new regulations for the time being, citing pending legal challenges and conflicts with existing state law.[19]

On September 30, 2010, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law S.B. 1449, a bill that decriminalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. The bill reduces simple possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction. This would eliminate the need to appear in front of a court and would treat possession of less than 28.5 grams like a traffic ticket, punishable by $100.[20]

In 2010, Proposition 19, titled the "Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010", qualified for the November California ballot. It was rejected by 54% of the voters.[21] This initiative would have legalized the recreational use of cannabis and its related activities in the State of California. It also would have allowed local governments to regulate and tax the newly created cannabis market.[22]


In Colorado in 2006, Amendment 44 would have legalized possession of 28.45 grams (approximately one ounce) or less by adults age 21 and older, but the amendment was rejected by 60-40 percent. [23]

The cities of Breckenridge and Denver have passed measures to make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana legal, although this is still a crime under state law. For more info see Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation.


In 2011, a bill to decriminalize marijuana in Maryland was introduced by Delegate Curt Anderson, a Democrat from Baltimore. Under his bill, House Bill 606, the possession of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana would be considered a civil offense and subject to a $100.00 fine rather than the criminal penalty of up to a year in jail and a $1,000.00 fine that exists in state law.[24] Although House Bill 606 had 19 co-sponsors and a well attended public hearing before the House Judiciary committee in Fedruary, 2011; the chairman of that committee never placed the bill on a voting list and the bill died in committee as the legislature adjourned its 2011 session in April.


On November 4, 2008, 65% of Massachusetts voters voted 'yes' on ballot question 2 known as the Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative, which became law on January 2, 2009, reduced the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis from the previous misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $500 fine to a civil infraction and a fine of $100, as well as prevent the inclusion of the citation into the CORI criminal records database which is used by law enforcement and employers to conduct background checks and jeopardizes the person's ability to obtain jobs, housing, and school loans. It also requires people under the age of 18 to have their parents notified and do community service, as well as receive drug awareness counseling or have the fine increased to $1000.[25]

House Bill 2929 and Senate Bill 1801 were introduced in January 2009 which seek to legalize and tax the cannabis industry.[26][27]


Ann Arbor, Michigan, due to referenda and ordinances, makes possession of small amounts of cannabis a civil infraction, subject to a fine, rather than a misdemeanor or felony. More stringent state laws are enforced on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. In 2009 the Michigan Medical Marijuana act was passed giving Michiganders similar rights to own and cultivate the plant for medical purposes. (See Cannabis laws in Ann Arbor, Michigan).


On November 5, 2002, voters in Nevada rejected Question 9 by 61-39 percent.[28] Question 9 would have legalized possession of cannabis under 85.5 grams (3 ounces) by adults age 21 and older and would allow cannabis to be regulated, cultivated, sold and taxed.[29] Question 9 would have also made low cost cannabis available for medical cannabis patients and would have created laws against "driving dangerously" under the influence of cannabis.[30]

On November 7, 2006, voters in Colorado and Nevada rejected propositions that would have legalized possession of up to 28.45 grams (one ounce) of cannabis.[31] In Nevada, Question 7 would have allowed adults 21 and older to purchase cannabis from government-regulated shops and possession of 28.45 grams or less in a private home would have been legalized, but the Question was rejected by 56-44 percent.[32]

New Hampshire

On May 1, 2008, the New Hampshire Senate voted down a bill that would have reduced the penalty for the possession up to a quarter-ounce of cannabis from a misdemeanor to a violation punishable by a fine of no more than $200. This bill had previously passed the N.H. State House of Representatives and had the support of the majority of polled voters.[33]


In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis.[34] Possession of 28.45 grams (1 ounce) or less is punishable by a $500 to $1,000 fine; stricter punishments exist for sale or cultivation.[35] In 1986, Oregon's Ballot Measure 5 sought to legalize cannabis,[36] but it was rejected by 74% of the voters.[11]


A bill that has already passed both chambers of the legislature became blocked after those in the Obama Administration threatened to use federal power to crack down on growers, sellers, landlords and even state employees who license the operations related to marijuana production and Gregoire responded that she could not sign the law but pledged to work with lawmakers on a new proposal.[37] In July of 2011 New Approach Washington filed Initiative 502 to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana under the authority of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.


The Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008 was introduced in the 110th United States Congress and represents the first attempt to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis at the federal level to be introduced in many decades. The bill was reintroduced in the 111th United States Congress as the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2009.

Arguments in support

In 1972, President Richard Nixon commissioned the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse to produce an in-depth report on cannabis. The report, "Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," found cannabis prohibition constitutionally suspect and stated regardless of whether the courts would overturn prohibition of cannabis possession, the executive and legislative branches have a duty to obey the Constitution.[2] "It’s a matter of individual freedom of choice,” said ACLU President Nadine Strossen in an interview. "Does that mean they should do it? Not necessarily, not any more than somebody should smoke or drink or eat McDonald’s hamburgers."[38]


Many proponents of cannabis decriminalization have argued partially decriminalizing cannabis would largely reduce costs of maintaining the criminal justice and law enforcement systems, while legalizing cannabis to allow the cultivation and sale would generate a substantial amount of income from taxing cannabis sales. Other arguments assert that the funds saved from cannabis decriminalization could be used to enforce laws for other, more serious and violent crimes.[39][40]

In 1988, Michael Aldrich and Tod Mikuriya published "Savings in California Marijuana Law Enforcement Costs Attributable to the Moscone Act of 1976" in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. The study estimated California saved almost one billion dollars in a twelve-year period between 1976 and 1988, as a result of the Moscone Act of 1976 that decriminalized cannabis.[41]

In 2003, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) published "Economic Costs of Drug Abuse," which stated without separately analyzing cannabis related costs, the United States was spending $12.1 billion on law enforcement and court costs, and $16.9 billion in corrections costs, totaling $29 billion.[13]

In his report entitled, “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition,” Jeffery Alan Miron explores the cost of this policy as well as the potential revenue it poses if the policy of prohibition is replaced with a system of legalization. In order to obtain an accurate estimate of the money involved in this policy, Miron used the latest Census information (2000) and state budget reports. According to his calculations, “legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $5.3 billion of these savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government”. In addition to these savings, according to Miron, “Marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco” [42] See projected marijuana tax revenues by state.

In 2004, Scott Bates of the Boreal Economic Analysis & Research center prepared a study for Alaskans for Rights & Revenues entitled "The Economic Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Alaska." The study estimated the Alaskan government was spending $25–30 million per year enforcing cannabis prohibition laws. The study found if the purchase of cannabis were to be taxed as a legal commodity, tax revenues would increase by about $10–20 million per year, making $35–50 million per year in funds available.[13][43]

In 2006, a study by Jon Gettman entitled "Marijuana Production in the United States" was published in The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform. The report states cannabis is the top cash crop in 12 states, is one of the top three cash crops in 30 states, and is one of the top five cash crops in 39 states. Gettman estimated the value of U.S. cannabis production at $35.8 billion, which is more than the combined value of corn and wheat. Furthermore, the report states according to federal estimates, eradication efforts have failed to prevent the spread of cannabis production, as cannabis production has increased tenfold in the past 25 years.[44]

In 2006, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released the 2006 World Drug Report, which stated the North American cannabis market is estimated to be worth anywhere from $10 billion to $60 billion annually.[45] That same study also indicated that the mountainous regions in Appalachia, and the rural areas of the West Coast are ideal for growing marijuana. Allowing farmers there to grow marijuana openly would both provide jobs and reduce the need for expensive federal welfare payments to those areas, which are disproportionately dependent on welfare.[46]

In 2006, a study by the University of California, Los Angeles found California has saved $2.50 for every dollar invested into Proposition 36, which decriminalized cannabis and other drug possession charges by allowing out patient treatment programs instead of incarceration. In the first year the proposition was enacted (2001), California reportedly saved $173 million, which is likely a result of fewer drug offenders in prison. In the five years after the program was enacted, 8,700 fewer people are in prison for drug offenses.[47]

Since cannabis is illegal in the United States, this policy has led to penalties for simple use and possession. Despite these penalties, users continue to find themselves in trouble with the law. The Connecticut Law Revision Commission made the following evaluation: "(1) the costs of arresting and prosecuting marijuana offenders were significantly lower in states that had done away with criminal penalties for possessing small amounts; (2) there was a greater increase in marijuana use in states that continue to treat possession as crime than in states that treated it as a civil offense; (3) easing the penalties for marijuana did not lead to a substantial increase in the use of either alcohol or hard drugs."[48]

Reduction of income earned by organized crime

The Drug Enforcement Agency has reported that cannabis sales and trafficking support violent criminal gangs.[49][50][51] Proponents of fully decriminalizing cannabis to allow the regulated cultivation and sale of cannabis, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, argue that fully decriminalizing cannabis would largely decrease financial gains earned by gangs in black market cannabis sales and trafficking.[39][52][53]

Reduction of subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs

The Marijuana Policy Project argues that:[54]

Research shows that the actual “gateway” is the illegal drug market. The World Health Organization noted that any gateway effect associated with marijuana use may actually be due to marijuana prohibition because “exposure to other drugs when purchasing cannabis on the black-market increases the opportunity to use other illicit drugs.” A study comparing experienced marijuana users in Amsterdam, where adults can purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses, with similarly experienced marijuana users in San Francisco, where non-medical possession and sale of marijuana remains completely illegal, bolstered this hypothesis: The San Francisco marijuana users were twice as likely to use crack cocaine as their Dutch counterparts, more than twice as likely to use amphetamines, and five times as likely to be current users of opiates.

Health effects of Marijuana

The Lancet's 2007 comparison of substances' relative harm

Cannabis has been subject to many studies over the past century. Modern scientific thinking acknowledges that cannabis can cause real, permanent harm, but also that the harm is less than many other drugs, including legal ones.[citation needed] Psychopharmacologist David Nutt argues, though he is against full declassification, that the harm caused by cannabis is far less than that caused by alcohol or tobacco, which, if they were invented today "would be illegal."[citation needed]

Reduction in prison overcrowding and strain on the Criminal Justice System

Supporters of decriminalization argue that if marijuana were to be legalized it would reduce the amount of non violent offenders in prison making room for the incarceration of more violent offenders as well as easing the current strain that the large amount of marijuana possession cases have on the criminal justice system. They also propose that it would also save taxpayers the cost of incarceration for these non violent offenders.[55]

Arguments in opposition

Subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs

In 1985, Gabriel G. Nahas published Keep Off the Grass, which stated that "[the] biochemical changes induced by marijuana in the brain result in drug-seeking, drug taking behavior, which in many instances will lead the user to experiment with other pleasurable substances. The risk of progression from marijuana to cocaine to heroin is now well documented."[56]

In 1995, Partnership for a Drug-Free America with support from The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the White House Office of Drug Control Policy launched a campaign against cannabis use citing a Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) report, which claimed that cannabis users are 85 times more likely than non-cannabis users to try cocaine.[57] However, an article published in The Activist Guide by John Morgan and Lynn Zimmer entitled "Marijuana's Gateway Myth," claims CASA's statistic is false. The article states:[57]

The high risk-factor obtained is a product not of the fact that so many marijuana users use cocaine but that so many cocaine users used marijuana previously. It is hardly a revelation that people who use one of the least popular drugs are likely to use the more popular ones — not only marijuana, but also alcohol and tobacco cigarettes. The obvious statistic not publicized by CASA is that most marijuana users — 83 percent — never use cocaine.

Multiple opponents of cannabis decriminalization have claimed increased cannabis use results in increased abuse of other illicit drugs.[39][58] However, multiple studies have found no evidence of a correlation between cannabis use and the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.

In 1997, the Connecticut Law Revision Commission examined states that had decriminalized cannabis and found decriminalizing small amounts of cannabis has no effect on subsequent use of alcohol or "harder" illicit drugs. The study recommended Connecticut reduce cannabis possession of one ounce or less for adults age 21 and over to a civil fine.[59]

In 1999, a study by the Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Health at the Institute of Medicine entitled "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," found no evidence of a link between cannabis use and the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs on the basis of its particular physiological effect.[60]

In December 2002, a study by RAND investigating whether cannabis use results in the subsequent use of cocaine and heroin was published in the British Journal of Addiction. The researchers created a mathematical model simulating adolescent drug use. National rates of cannabis and hard drug use in the model matched survey data collected from representative samples of youths from across the United States; the model produced patterns of drug use and abuse. The study stated:[61]

The people who are predisposed to use drugs and have the opportunity to use drugs are more likely than others to use both marijuana and harder drugs ... Marijuana typically comes first because it is more available. Once we incorporated these facts into our mathematical model of adolescent drug use, we could explain all of the drug use associations that have been cited as evidence of marijuana's gateway effect ... We've shown that the marijuana gateway effect is not the best explanation for the link between marijuana use and the use of harder drugs.

In 2004, a study by Craig Reinarman, Peter D. A. Cohen, and Hendrien L. Kaal entitled "The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and in San Francisco," was published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study found no evidence that the decriminalization of cannabis leads to subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs. The study also found the mean age at onset of cannabis use and the mean age of cannabis users are both higher in Amsterdam than in San Francisco.[62][63]

In 2006, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden used twelve rats to examine how adolescent use of cannabis affects subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs. The study gave six of the twelve "teenage" rats a small dose of THC, reportedly equivalent to one joint smoked by a human, every three days. The rats were allowed to administer heroin by pushing a lever and the study found the rats given THC took larger doses of heroin. The institute examined the brain cells in the rats and found THC alters the opioid system that is associated with positive emotions, which lessens the effects of opiates on rat's brain and thus causes them to use more heroin.[64] Paul Armentano, policy analyst for NORML, claimed because the rats were given THC at the young age of 28 days, it is impossible to extrapolate the results of this study to humans.[65]

In December 2006, a 12 year gateway drug hypothesis study on 214 boys from ages 10–12 by the American Psychiatric Association was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study concluded adolescents who used cannabis prior to using other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, were no more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder than subjects in the study who did not use cannabis prior to using other drugs.[66][67]

In September 2010, a study from the University of New Hampshire examined survey data from 1,286 young adults who had attended Miami-Dade County Public Schools in the 1990s and found the association between teenage marijuana use and other illicit drug abuse by young adults was significantly diminished after controlling for other factors, such as unemployment. They found that after young adults reach age 21, the gateway effect subsides entirely.[68]

Increased crime

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has claimed that cannabis leads to increased crime in the un-sourced pamphlet entitled "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization."[69]

Studies have found no evidence of a link between cannabis usage and an increase in crime, but rather have found cannabis may decrease criminal behavior when under the influence.[2][70] In 1973, a report by the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse entitled "Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding" found marijuana does not cause violent or aggressive behavior, but rather "marijuana was usually found to inhibit the expression of aggressive impulses by pacifying the user, interfering with muscular coordination, reducing psychomotor activities and generally producing states of drowsiness lethargy, timidity and passivity."[2][70]

In 2001, a report by David Boyum and Mark Kleiman entitled "Substance Abuse Policy from a Crime-Control Perspective" found the "high" from cannabis is unlikely to trigger violence and concluded:[71]

Making marijuana legally available to adults on more or less the same terms as alcohol would tend to reduce crime, certainly by greatly shrinking the illicit market and possibly by reducing alcohol consumption via substitution if smoking marijuana acts, on balance, as a substitute for drinking alcohol rather than a complement to it since drinking seems to have a greater tendency to unleash aggression than does cannabis use.

In 2004, a study by Scott Bates from the Boreal Economic Analysis & Research center entitled "The Economic Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Alaska," was prepared for Alaskans for Rights & Revenues. The study found there was no link between cannabis use and criminal behavior.[43]

Increased cannabis usage

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has claimed that cannabis decriminalization will lead to increased cannabis use and addiction in the un-sourced pamphlet entitled "Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization".[72] The pamphlet states in 1979, after 11 states decriminalized private cannabis use, cannabis use among 12th grade students was almost 51 percent and in 1992, when stricter cannabis laws were put in place, the usage rate reduced to 22 percent. The pamphlet also states that when Alaska decriminalized cannabis in 1975, the cannabis use rate among youth eventually rose to twice the national average youth usage rate nationwide; even though the law did not apply to anyone under the age of 19, the pamphlet explains this is why Alaska re-criminalized cannabis in 1990. Save Our Society From Drugs (SOS) has also stated that decriminalizing cannabis will increase usage among teenagers, citing an increase in Alaskan youth cannabis usage when cannabis was decriminalized.[73] However, cannabis use rose in all states in the 1970s, and the DEA does not say whether or not Alaska started out higher than the national average. Following decriminalization, Alaska youth had lower rates of daily use of cannabis that their peers in the rest of the US.[74]

In 1972, President Richard Nixon commissioned the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse to produce an in-depth report on cannabis. The report, entitled "Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding," reviewed existing cannabis studies and concluded that cannabis does not cause physical addiction.[2]

Studies conducted in Oregon, California, and Maine within a few years of decriminialization found little increase in cannabis use, compared to the rest of the country; "The most frequently cited reasons for non-use by respondents was 'not interested,' cited by about 80% of non-users. Only 4% of adults indicated fear of arrest and prosecution or unavailability as factors preventing use."[74]

In 1997, the Connecticut Law Revision Commission examined states that had decriminalized cannabis and found any increase in cannabis usage was less than the increase in states that have not decriminalized cannabis; furthermore, the commission stated "the largest proportionate increase [of cannabis use] occurred in those states with the most severe penalties." The study recommended Connecticut reduce cannabis possession of 28.35 grams (one ounce) or less for adults age 21 and over to a civil fine.[59]

In 1999, a study by the Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Health at the Institute of Medicine entitled "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," concluded "there is little evidence that decriminalization of marijuana use necessarily leads to a substantial increase in marijuana use."[60]

In 2001, a report by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter entitled "Evaluating alternative cannabis regimes," was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The report found there was no available evidence cannabis use would increase if cannabis were decriminalized.[75]

In 2004, a study entitled "The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and in San Francisco," found strict laws against cannabis use have a low impact on usage rates.[63]


Several U.S.-based advocate groups seek to modify the drug policy of the United States to decriminalize cannabis. These groups include Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, and Americans for Safe Access. There are also many individual American cannabis activists, such as Jack Herer, Paul Armentano, Edward Forchion, Jon Gettman, Rob Kampia, and Keith Stroup; Marc Emery, a well-known Canadian activist, has supported cannabis activism in the U.S. among other countries by donating money earned from Cannabis Culture magazine and

In June 2005, Jeffrey Alan Miron, a libertarian economist and Visiting Professor of Economics at Harvard University and more than 530 distinguished economists, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, called for the legalization of cannabis in an open letter to President George W. Bush, the United States Congress, Governors, and State Legislatures of the United States.[76] The open letter contained Miron's "Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States" report (view report).

In 1997, the Connecticut Law Revision Commission recommended Connecticut reduce cannabis possession of one ounce or less for adults age 21 and over to a civil fine.[59] In 2001, the New Mexico state-commissioned Drug Policy Advisory Group stated that decriminalizing cannabis "will result in greater availability of resources to respond to more serious crimes without any increased risks to public safety."[40]

A few places in California have been advocating cannabis decriminalization. On November 3, 2004, Oakland passed Proposition Z, which makes "adult recreational marijuana use, cultivation and sales the lowest [city] law enforcement priority."[77] The proposition states the city of Oakland must advocate to the state of California to adopt laws to regulate and tax cannabis.[78] On November 7, 2006, Santa Cruz passed Measure K, which made cannabis the lowest priority for city law enforcement. The measure requests the Santa Cruz City Clerk send letters annually to state and federal representatives advocating reform of cannabis laws.[79] On June 5, 2007, Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to send a letter in support of the legalization, regulation, and taxation of cannabis to state and federal legislators, and the President of United States.[80]

Ron Paul, a Texas Congressman and 2008 Presidential Candidate, stated at a rally in response to a question by a medical cannabis patient that he would "never use the federal government to force the law against anybody using marijuana."[81] In his book, The Revolution: A Manifesto he writes, "Regardless of where one stands on the broader drug war, we should all be able to agree on the subject of medical marijuana. Here, the use of an otherwise prohibited substance has been found to relieve unbearable suffering in countless patients. How can we fail to support liberty and individual responsibility in such a clear cut case? What harm does it do to anyone else to allow fellow human beings in pain to find the relief they need?"[82] He is also the cosponsor of the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008.

Mike Gravel, a former U.S. senator from Alaska and 2008 presidential candidate, responded to a caller on a CSPAN program asking about cannabis and the drug war, he stated "That one is real simple, I would legalize marijuana. You should be able to buy that at a liquor store."[83]

Dennis Kucinich , a U.S. representative from Ohio and 2008 presidential candidate, has been an advocate of cannabis legalization. During Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, the following was posted on Kucinich's official campaign web site.[84]

Most marijuana users do so responsibly, in a safe, recreational context. These people lead normal, productive lives — pursuing careers, raising families and participating in civic life ... A Kucinich administration would reject the current paradigm of 'all use is abuse' in favor of a drug policy that sets reasonable boundaries for marijuana use by establishing guidelines similar to those already in place for alcohol.

See also


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