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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
An Analysis of Marijuana Policy, National Research Council of the National Academy of Science, 1982

An Analysis of Marijuana Policy

National Research Council of the National Academy of Science, 1982


For the last decade, concern with health hazards attributable to marijuana has been rising. The hearts, lungs, reproductive functions, and mental abilities of children have been reported to be threatened by marijuana, and such threats are not to be taken lightly. Heavy use by anyone or any use by growing children should be discouraged. Although conclusive evidence is lacking of major, long-term public health problems caused by marijuana, they are worrisome possibilities, and both the reports and the a priori likelihood of developmental damage to some young users makes marijuana use a cause for extreme concern

At the same time, the effectiveness of the present federal policy of complete prohibition falls far short of its goal--preventing use. An estimated 55 million Americans have tried marijuana, federal enforcement of prohibition of use is virtually nonexistent, and 11 states have repealed criminal penalties for private possession of small amounts and for private use. It can no longer be argued that use would be much more widespread and the problematic effects greater today if the policy of complete prohibition did not exist: The existing evidence on policies of partial prohibition indicates that partial prohibition has been as effective in controlling consumption as complete prohibition and has entailed considerably smaller social, legal, and economic costs. On balance, therefore, we believe that a policy of partial prohibition is clearly preferable to a policy of complete prohibition of supply and use.

We believe, further that current policies directed at controlling the supply of marijuana should be seriously reconsidered. The demonstrated ineffectiveness of control of use through prohibition of supply and the high costs of implementing such a policy make it very unlikely that any kind of partial prohibition policy will be effective in reducing marijuana use significantly below present levels. Moreover, it seems likely to us that removal of criminal sanctions will be given serious consideration by the federal government and by the states in the foreseeable future. Hence, a variety of alternative policies should be considered.

At this time, the form of specific alternatives to current policies and their probable effect on patterns of use cannot be determined with confidence. It is possible that, after careful study, all alternatives will turn out to have so many disadvantages that none could command public consensus. To maximize the likelihood of sound policy for the long run, however, further research should be conducted on the biological, behavioral, developmental, and social consequences of marijuana use, on the structure and operation of drug markets, and on the relations of various conditions of availability to patterns of use.

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