Consider that when Alaska briefly legalized pot, the use of marijuana and cocaine among adolescents soared more than twice that of any other U.S. state.

Criminal Laws Have Not Curtailed Adolescent Marijuana Use

Penalty Differences Between the States

By 1979, eleven states containing 32.6% of the U.S. population had "decriminalized" marijuana, i.e., a jail sentence was no longer a penalty option for somebody apprehended with a small quantity of marijuana. Offenders in these states typically are not arrested: They are given a written citation at the site of the offense, similar to a traffic ticket, and they are required to pay a small civil fine.

The federally funded researchers who have been studying high school students' drug use and attitudes since the mid-1970s examined the effects of criminal penalties on marijuana use and attitudes during the time period of 1975-1980. Reported usage rates (lifetime, annual, monthly, and daily) among high school seniors in the decriminalized states were compared to the rates in the rest of the states, where criminal penalties remained in effect. The researchers concluded that "decriminalization has had virtually no effect either on the marijuana use or on related attitudes and beliefs about marijuana use among American young people in this age group."

Supporters of prohibition often respond by arguing that there are studies indicating that the absence of criminal penalties does, in fact, promote adolescent marijuana use. The MPP Foundation is unaware of any such studies. In a public forum, the author of this report asked the primary researcher of the study cited -- Lloyd Johnston, Ph.D. -- if there had ever been another study that compared marijuana usage rates in the decriminalized states to rates in the other states in the U.S. This leading federally funded researcher said that there had not.

Source: The Marijuana Policy Project:

In Holland where dope smoking is permitted, use among 11 to 18 year olds increased 142% from 1990 to 1995; crimes like aggravated theft and breaking and entering are now 3 to 4 times that of the U.S.

False Claims

McCaffrey asserted that drug abuse problems in The Netherlands are "enormous" (Associated Press, July 13, 1998). In fact, the Dutch have no more drug problems than most neighboring countries which do not have "liberal" drug policies. Further, by virtually all measures the Dutch have less drug use and abuse than the U.S. from a lower rate of marijuana use among teens to a lower rate of heroin addiction among adults.

McCaffrey also claimed, to a room full of journalists, that "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States... That's drugs." He cited these figures: 17.58 murders per 100,000 population in the Netherlands, he asserted, vs. 8.22 per 100,000 in the U.S. (Reuters, July 13, 1998). For decades the U.S. has had significantly higher crime rates than other industrialized democracies. This has been reported at least annually by most newspapers and news magazines in the U.S.

Whatever the reason this fact eluded General McCaffrey and his staff, it did not elude the journalists to whom he spoke. In less than 24 hours, the world's media caught and corrected McCaffrey's mistake. They showed that he had arrived at his Dutch figure by lumping homicides together with the much higher number of attempted homicides, and that he had not done the same for the U.S. figures. Thus, the Drug Czar had compared the U.S. homicide rate with the combined rates of homicide and attempted homicide in the Netherlands. The correct Dutch homicide rate, the international press reported, is 1.8 per 100,000, less than one fourth the U.S. rate (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, July 13, 1998; Reuters, July 14, 1998). Even this error might have been forgotten if McCaffrey had not gone on to attribute this newfound murderous streak in the Dutch national soul to their drug policy: "That's drugs" he said, apparently unaware that there has never been any evidence that marijuana the only drug the Dutch ever decriminalized is a cause of murder.

Source: Reinarman, Craig (2000), Drug Legalization: Current Controversies Scott Barbour (Ed.), . San Diego: Greenhaven Press. pp. 102-108.

The US has a relatively long tradition of surveys on drug use and the American figures consistently appear to be higher then those in the Netherlands. A comparison with the Netherlands using identical measurement instruments revealed that in the 1980, US school children clearly were starting to use cannabis earlier and in far greater relative numbers than Dutch ones [Plomp, Kuipers & van Oers, 1988]. More recent figures show that ever use among Americans aged twelve years and above is over twice as high as it is in the Netherlands [16]. Clearly then, the US as the prototypical example of a prohibitionist approach towards cannabis is more in the lead with respect to cannabis consumption than the Netherlands, being the prototypical example of anti-prohibitionism.

Source: Dirk J. Korf University of Amsterdam - TRENDS AND PATTERNS IN CANNABIS USE IN THE NETHERLANDS, Hearing of the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Ottawa, November 19, 2001

If we look at and compare those countries that have had a very punitive model for dealing with drug abuse, such as the United States, and those European models where they have had a decriminalization approach, we would see this.

In the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and now in Great Britain decriminalization of simple marijuana possession has enabled them to decrease the use of cannabis. The reason is very interesting. They reckon that because the forbidden fruit syndrome was not attached to a decriminalized substance like cannabis, they found that use, particularly among youth, declined quite substantially, which is very interesting. When one looks at harder drugs, there is not a shred of evidence to show that cannabis is a gateway drug. In fact, where drug use had been decriminalized, they found that hard drug use actually was static or had declined. This is also a very interesting fact.

When drug use in European countries like the Netherlands was compared to the United States, it was found that the use of harder drugs like cocaine was about 2% in the Netherlands and about 11% to 12% in the United States. Therefore the harder, more punitive actions do not work when the objective is to decrease the use of hard drugs.

Europeans, Australians and now the Brits have done the same thing. A pilot project to decriminalize the use of marijuana was done in Brixton to see what would happen. They found that drug use declined. There was a massive saving to their judicial forces. The same thing happened in south Australia where decriminalization was so effective that it is now looking at applying it to the entire country. Where it has worked it has been extremely effective.

Source: Mr. Keith Martin (Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca, Canadian Alliance) Parliamentary Debate

Yearever usedpast month
Yearever usedpast month

Source: 2000 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS)
The British Medical Journal

Cannabis use among young people has also increased in most Western European countries and in the US. The rate of (cannabis) use among young people in the US is much higher than in the Netherlands, and Great Britain and Ireland also have relatively larger numbers of school students who use cannabis."

Source: Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Drug Policy in the Netherlands: Progress Report September 1997-September 1999, (The Hague: Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, November 1999), p. 7.

U.S. Youth Most Likely To Use Drugs

European youth are more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcoholic beverages, but American adolescents have a much higher rate of illicit drug use, according to a 1999 survey of more than 100,000 10th grade students in the United States and 30 European countries.

Of 14,000 American youth surveyed, 41 percent said they had tried marijuana and 23 percent had used other illegal drugs. Among European students, marijuana use was 17 percent and other drug use only 6 percent. Even in the Netherlands, where many drugs are legal, only 28 percent of subjects had used marijuana.

About 37 percent of the European students had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days (compared to 26 percent of Americans) and 61 percent had consumed alcohol (compared to 40 percent of Americans).

Source: The Health Link, University Hospital of Medicine and Dentistry, Newark, New Jersey

According to the United Nations, 5.2 percent of Dutch ages 12 and older had used marijuana or hashish in the past year, less than half the rate in the United States. "The separation of hard and soft drugs has helped keep people out of the drugs that really marginalize you from society," said Janhuib Blans of the Jellinek Center, a Dutch organization that runs drug prevention, counseling, and treatment programs.


"Cannabis use among young people has also increased in most Western European countries and in the US. The rate of (cannabis) use among young people in the US is much higher than in the Netherlands, and Great Britain and Ireland also have relatively larger numbers of school students who use cannabis."

Source: Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, Drug Policy in the Netherlands: Progress Report September 1997-September 1999, (The Hague: Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, November 1999), p. 7.
See: Drug War Facts
  • After years of increase, cannabis use among young people has stabilised.
  • From an international perspective, the Netherlands is not out of line in terms of cannabis use.

According to a national survey of risk behavior among Dutch youth aged 10-18, marijuana use is on the decline for the first time in 16 years. The survey, published every four years by the Netherlands Institute for Mental Health and Addiction, showed that 20 percent in that age group had used marijuana at least once, but less than 10 percent had smoked marijuana in the previous month

Source: National Drug Monitor 2001 Annual Report CANNABIS Latest facts and trends

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