Vice Squad
Saturday, July 24, 2004
Why is Marijuana Illegal?

Pete Guither at Drug WarRant has an excellent essay explaining how marijuana became illegal in the US -- but why has it remained illegal? Alcohol Prohibition, after all, only lasted 13 years, and we have had national marijuana prohibition for some 67 years now.

The recent news out of Canada offers a partial explanation, though. It's not a matter of principle, of course, it is a matter of numbers. Alcohol prohibition was rescinded in part because alcohol use was popular with something on the order of 1/2 of US society -- and probably at least 1/2 of the legislators and police officers who were enacting and enforcing the anti-alcohol laws. Marijuana use, by contrast, remains a distinctly minority pursuit, with perhaps 5% of the population using it in the past 30 days. (Marijuana prevalence statistics might be significant underestimates of true usage, but even accounting for that possibility, only a small proportion of the population uses marijuana.) Maybe usage will have to rise before some sanity is brought to our drug laws. Alcohol prohibition, for instance, was enacted when alcohol consumption had been falling -- and falling almost monotonically for 80 years, actually. It began to rise three years or so into Prohibition. But sacrificing hundreds of thousands of users annually to the criminal justice system is a very costly method of bringing about reform.

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