Arguing for prohibition

weed by 1ncognito
weed, a photo by 1ncognito on Flickr.

While, as we’ve said before on this site, we at Mentor don’t ‘do’ legalisation/prohibition it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think about what the consequences might be of law reform.

The arguments for changing the way the law deals with cannabis (and other drugs) have been given lots of media attention and have some intelligent and thoughtful advocates – as well as a number who minimise the potential harms that such a policy might cause and who use ad hominem attacks on those that don’t sign up.

What is much harder to find are clear headed and respectable proponents for the view that the law is just about right.

This interview with Kevin Sabet, an assistant professor and the director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida College of Medicine, is amongst the best I’ve come across from that perspective.

The public’s views about drugs

The Sun commissioned an opinion poll about drugs the details of which can be found here.  If you fancy it you can compare the difference that voting intention makes to views about drugs, or age, or the regional variations.

I’ve had a quick go at pulling together a presentation of some of the questions that were asked.

What you’ll see is that, while most people are clear about the harms caused by drugs, younger respondents tend to think that there is less of a problem, that drugs are less harmful, and less addictive than the general population.

You’ll also see that the majority of the public when asked if they want to see the legal consequences for the sale and possession of drugs change the majority say they don’t; but they do seem to favour looking at decriminalising possession as has been done in Portugal.


Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use

Medical Cannabis Club by Thomas Hawk
Medical Cannabis Club, a photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

The argument for not considering changes to the way that drugs are controlled that Ken Clarke made in his evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee the other day rested in part on the deterrent effect of the law on use.

I was asked a similar question yesterday in giving evidence the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform as part of their enquiry into novel psychoactive substances.

This paper suggests that there may be ways of regulating drugs that don’t necessarily lead to increased use by young people.

The paper looks at States in the US that have legalised medical marijuana and what effect this has on teenage use of the drug. They conclude:

Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical
marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana and other substances among high school students. In fact, estimates from our preferred specifications are consistently negative and are
never statistically distinguishable from zero.

I raise this issue not to argue that we need to move Mentor’s position on the legal status of drugs but to reinforce it.

Our view has always been that arguments about the legal status of drugs is a red herring when it comes to the potential for harm.

The legal status of drugs seems not to be a significant factor in whether young people decide to use them. Rather the attitudes of parents and peers, the values that the young person has, the availability of drugs, and particular personality traits seem to be much more important.

Whatever the legal status of a drug – whether that is alcohol or cannabis – we should be in no doubt of the potential for harm.

In the case of cannabis the authors of the paper about medical marijuana summarise the harms to young people well:

There is, in fact, evidence that adolescents and young adults who use marijuana are more likely to use other substances such as alcohol and cocaine (Saffer and Chaloupka 1999; DeSimone and Farrelly 2003; Williams et al. 2004; Yörük and Yörük 2011), as well as evidence that they are more likely to suffer from mental health problems (Fergusson et al. 2003; Van Ours and Williams 2011), partake in risky sexual behaviors (Rashad and Kaestner 2004), and do poorly in school (Yamada et al. 1996; Roebuck et al. 2003; Van Ours and Williams 2009).