“The drug war encourages violence. Government violence against nonviolent users is notorious and has led to the unnecessary prison overpopulation. Innocent taxpayers are forced to pay for all this so-called justice.”
Ron PaulAmerican physician and Republican Congressman in Texas
An estimated 155 to 250 million people worldwide use illegal substances annually, and of these cannabis is by far the most commonly used drug.1 Global estimates suggest that cannabis is used annually by approximately 129 to 190 million people.1
The health effects of cannabis have been described in detail elsewhere.2 In brief, conflicting data from observational studies make the adverse health effects of cannabis the subject of ongoing debate and study.3, 4 While this debate will certainly continue, 5 there is nevertheless accumulating evidence that cannabis can have some adverse effects in susceptible individuals, particularly those who initiate use at a young age and longstanding high-intensity users.6 The major potential adverse effects of acute intoxication include its known short-term psychological effects and motor impairment, which create potential for accidental injury, including injury caused by motor vehicle accidents. As well, cannabis use may be a contributory cause of respiratory diseases from chronic smoke exposure.7, 8-11 It is important to put these health concerns into a comparative context, as was recently done by a panel of scientific experts from the United Kingdom who, using a nine-category matrix of harm spanning physical and social harms, ranked cannabis as less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.12
Cannabis is produced in almost all countries of the world, with Mexico, Paraguay, Afghanistan, Columbia, the US, Canada and Bolivia identified as major source countries.1 In contrast to a worldwide trend of primarily domestic production,1 the US prohibition on cannabis, coupled with its high demand, has boosted production in neighbouring countries in the Americas.
It has recently been estimated that Mexico produces more than 20,000 metric tons of cannabis for export to the United States, which, together with cocaine and heroin trafficking, generates billions of dollars of revenue for Mexican drug trafficking organizations and has led to widespread corruption among police and judiciary in that country.13, 14 Canada has also been a major exporter of cannabis to the US along its northern border.15 In addition, in recent years there has been a shift towards increased domestic cannabis production in the US, coupled with the development of a large illegal market and associated harms. A 2003 report prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress estimated that the total 2002 US cannabis domestic supply (domestically produced and imported cannabis) was about 22,000 metric tons, or 48 million pounds.16
While public service announcements such as the US’s National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign have sought to dissuade youth from using cannabis, a $42.7 million federal government funded evaluation concluded that the $1.4 billion advertising campaign was ineffective and may actually have had the negative effect of inflating the perception that drug use among American youth is widespread.17 Negative effects of these advertisements have been reported elsewhere.18 The most widely implemented school-based prevention program, known as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), has also proven to be ineffective at reducing rates of illicit drug use.19
At the same time, there has emerged widespread criticism of the “war on drugs,” with a range of prominent individuals and scientific bodies calling for more evidence-based approaches to drug control.20, 21 In this context, in 2009 California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger indicated that he welcomed a debate on cannabis legalization, and several initiatives in the state of California, including Bill 2254 and the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis proposition, have fuelled debate about the impacts of cannabis prohibition and the potential impacts of a regulated (i.e., legal) market in both the US and internationally.
Surprisingly, to date, an impact assessment of cannabis prohibition using data derived through the US federal government surveillance systems has been largely absent from this debate. Therefore, drawing upon data derived from cannabis surveillance systems funded by the US federal government, this report seeks to summarize information on the impacts of US cannabis prohibition on cannabis seizures and arrests. The report also tests the widely held assumption that increased funding for cannabis prohibition and subsequent increased seizures and arrests reduce cannabis-related harms, by evaluating historical US federally funded surveillance systems examining markers of cannabis potency, price, availability and rates of use. The report concludes by describing regulatory tools that may be highly effective at reducing cannabis-related harm within a legal cannabis model.
“As a nation, we have been responsible for the murder of literally hundreds of thousands of people at home and abroad by fighting a war that should never have been started and can be won, if at all, only by converting the United States into a police state.”
Milton FriedmanUS economist and Nobel laureate