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DPF Statement on Marijuana Hearings


CONTACT: Dave Fratello or Rob Stewart, (202) 537-5005

Marijuana Use Is Up, But Don't Overreact DPF Urges Congress, White House to Reexamine Policy, Not Increase Penalties

WASHINGTON, March 6 -- A House subcommittee and a White House conference this week will focus on how to react to increasing teen marijuana use. The Drug Policy Foundation today urged lawmakers to refrain from knee-jerk escalation of the war on marijuana users.

DPF Executive Director David Condliffe said, "Recent reports that more kids are using drugs like marijuana are a cause for concern to every American. However, this is the wrong time to simply increase arrest rates and penalties for marijuana, as Congress and the White House seem poised to do."

"Instead," Condliffe said, "it is time to reckon with reality. The war on marijuana has failed. Nearly half a million arrests last year failed to disrupt the market for the drug, which was used by over 17 million people. Incarceration rates for nonviolent drug users are intolerably high, requiring us to build more and more prisons while schools go bankrupt. We must reassess our marijuana policy."

"One thing we must learn from the recent increases in marijuana use," Condliffe said, "is that current efforts to prevent use -- including drug education programs like DARE -- have not worked. We need two new national goals: More credible and widespread drug education, and the separation of the marijuana market from the hard drug market."

"Today," Condliffe said, "marijuana is sold alongside hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, putting our children at risk for trying those addictive substances. We need to separate those markets and focus on preventing use by kids. The best hope for preventing teenagers' access to marijuana is to regulate the purchase of the drug by adults, focusing enforcement on those who would provide the drug to kids."

Condliffe added, "We should build a national consensus on this point: People should be arrested and go to jail for selling or giving marijuana to kids. Otherwise, the personal use of marijuana by adult Americans, in itself, should not be a concern of law enforcement at any level."

DPF President Arnold Trebach said, "Every objective commission to examine the marijuana question has agreed that people should not go to jail for using it. In this country, President Nixon's Shafer Commission in 1973 urged decriminalization, as did the National Academy of Sciences in 1982. It's time to convert that long-ignored advice into a real, new national marijuana policy that focuses on preventing use by kids."

Trebach noted the overall success of the Dutch experience with decriminalization as an example for U.S. policy. "In 1976, the Dutch decided to allow adults 18 and over to purchase small amounts of marijuana. They hoped to reduce the social disruption caused by prohibiting the drug," Trebach said. "While the Dutch have made some changes in their policy recently, they have not abandoned this 20-year experiment -- because it works."

Trebach continued, "The Dutch made marijuana boring by decriminalizing it, which helps explain why Dutch youth still use marijuana at a generally lower rate than American youth. They have also separated the market for hard drugs from the marijuana market -- a major success."

Condliffe noted that some of the concern over marijuana use has to do with the notion that it is a "gateway" to the use of harder drugs. "In this country," Condliffe said, "we hear a lot about the notion that marijuana use leads to harder drugs. Most of this talk about marijuana as a 'gateway' drug is false. There is no causal connection between the drugs, only a cross-marketing opportunity caused by the black market. In the United States, 16 percent of young marijuana users move on to try harder drugs; in the Netherlands, only 1.8 percent of young marijuana users do."

Condliffe added, "Young Americans who use marijuana are more than eight times more likely to move on to cocaine than are Dutch youth who use marijuana. Our rate of 'graduation' to hard drugs is much higher in the United States because of the overlap between the black markets for adults and for kids, and between the markets for marijuana and other drugs. We should learn from this experience and make it a policy priority to separate these markets."

Condliffe concluded, "We recognize that this advice may be unwelcome at this time. However, we challenge those who would ratchet up the war on marijuana to explain why they think such a strategy will succeed after years of failure."

"Fresh thinking is needed on marijuana policy," Condliffe said. "We should aim for the highest level of national consensus -- preventing drug use by kids. To achieve this goal, we must learn to focus our efforts. An overly broad policy of arresting nonviolent adult users and enriching those who traffic in all drugs does not help us to protect our children. It's time for change."


The House Subcommittee on Crime holds hearings on "Marijuana Use in America" Wednesday, March 6, at 10:00 am in 2237 Rayburn. Representative Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) chairs the hearings. On Thursday, March 7, the White House hosts the "Leadership Conference on Youth, Drug Use and Violence," from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.

The Drug Policy Foundation and other groups will attend the House committee meeting and will make available spokespersons from several different perspectives.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
Contact: Allen St. Pierre -- (202) 483-5500

Marijuana Policy Project
Contact: Rob Kampia, Chuck Thomas -- (202) 462-5747

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