Source: USA Today (US)
Published: May 17, 2005
Copyright: 2005 USA Today, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
USA -- Marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance. About 15
million Americans smoke it, and police make nearly 700,000 pot-related
arrests each year, accounting for nearly half of all drug arrests.
The $35 billion-a-year war on drugs has turned largely into a war on
marijuana, and a losing war at that. Pot isn't harmless, but shouldn't
law enforcement focus more of its resources on hard drugs — cocaine,
heroin and methamphetamines — that are associated with violence and
According to a new study by The Sentencing Project, a liberal research
group that favors alternatives to incarceration:
• Marijuana arrests increased 113% from 1990 through 2002, while arrests
for all other drugs rose just 10%.
• Four of five marijuana arrests are for possession, not dealing.
The theory behind the war on drugs is that enough arrests will curtail
both supply and demand. But the impact of increased marijuana arrests
appears negligible. According to private and government studies, overall
marijuana use is the same as it was in 1990, while daily use by high
school seniors has nearly tripled, from 2.2% to 6%. Since 1992, the
inflation-adjusted price of pot has fallen about 16% while potency has
doubled, the studies show.
So the intensified crackdown has coincided with cheaper, stronger pot
that's readily available. Law enforcement's efforts to arrest marijuana
smokers are diverting resources from combating other crimes and those
who traffic in hard drugs.
Few people arrested for possessing marijuana serve jail time, but the
consequences they face are severe. They may not qualify for federal
student loans or entry to public housing, may lose the right to vote,
and face a job market with criminal records they must report to
The drug war against low-level users also sparks resentment against
police, particularly in the minority community. African-Americans
represent 14% of marijuana users but account for 30% of arrests, The
Sentencing Project study found.
The get-tough approach is showing cracks both at home and abroad. Twelve
states have some form of decriminalization or reduced sentences. Great
Britain, Canada and Russia have decriminalized possession of small
amounts of the drug.
Today's more potent marijuana carries substantial health and social
risks. It can lead to depression, thoughts of suicide and schizophrenia,
especially among teens, according to government research. Its use should
be discouraged. But it's a smoke screen to suggest that rising arrest
numbers show the war on drugs is working. It's time for a serious debate
on whether massive arrests of low-level users are worth the cost or
having any benefit.
Related Articles & Web Site:
The Sentencing Project
The War on Pot: Wrong Drug, Wrong War
Marijuana Becomes Focus of Drug War
Marijuana Behind 45 Percent of U.S. Drug Arrests