Marijuana Prohibition Not Strong Deterrent, Study Says -- Personal Preference and Health Concerns Primary Reasons for Abstention 9/28/01

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(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)

Sydney, Australia: Criminal laws prohibiting the possession and consumption of marijuana do little to deter its use and may be cost prohibitive, according to the results of a study published by the New South Wales (NSW) Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The study found that nearly half of all males and 35 percent of females in New South Wales have used marijuana at some point in their lives, despite the fact that any use of marijuana is punishable by up to two years in jail. More than one in five males had used marijuana in the past year, researchers said.

Among former cannabis users, investigators found that the majority stopped using the drug because they no longer "like it." Twenty-five percent said they did so because of health concerns. Fewer than one in five said they gave up the drug because it's illegal, and only one percent said that prohibition made cannabis "difficult to get a hold of."

Among those who had never used marijuana, 47 percent said they abstained because they "didn't think [they] would like it." Health concerns were the second most common reason given; the fact that marijuana is illegal was cited third. Only ten percent of respondents cited "getting caught by the police" as a reason for avoiding the drug.

"Prohibition is not the dominant consideration in individual decisions to use or desist from using the drug," investigators concluded. "Health considerations and anticipated and actual dislike of the drug are more important factors in preventing or stopping use." They added: "Fear of being imprisoned, the cost of cannabis or the difficulty in obtaining cannabis [also] do not appear to exert a strong influence on decisions about cannabis consumption... Those factors may limit cannabis use among frequent cannabis users but there is no evidence, as yet, to support this conjecture. [However,] prohibition [does] impose indirect costs upon the State and affected individuals when, as a result of their conviction, cannabis users suffer unemployment or reduced earning prospects. [Those] who are imprisoned solely for cannabis use or possession may feel a legitimate sense of grievance at the misfortune that has befallen them in comparison with other cannabis users, the vast majority of whom will never be reported to police... or imprisoned."

The researchers' findings are consistent with those of other studies concluding that marijuana decriminalization has no significant impact on marijuana use. In a US government comparative study, researchers found that marijuana use was no more prevalent in states that had eliminated criminal penalties for marijuana possession than in those neighboring jurisdictions that maintained them. Recently, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry concluded, "The available evidence suggests that... removal of prohibitions on cannabis possession (decriminalization) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana or any other illicit substance."

(Visit http://www.cannabislegal.de/studien/nsw/b58.htm to find the NSW study online.)

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