In this Insight, we bring the techniques of policy analysis to the issue of whether prohibition is the best way to reduce harm from using marijuana. Our conclusion is that a better way of lowering harmful marijuana use would be legalisation, combined with heavy taxation, regulation and education. The result should be less use, considerable fiscal savings to the government and the removal of a valuable source of revenue for criminals.
- deaths from overdose do not occur
- strength of addiction is very low
- use tends to start early in life or not at all and declines with age
- many of the adverse social effects of marijuana are the result of its legal status, not its chemical properties
So cannabis is not the same as P.
Yet despite its illegal status, marijuana use is prevalent. According to Ministry of Health figures, 11% of New Zealanders aged 15 years and over reported using cannabis in the year ended June 2013, with 3.8% reporting that they consumed it at least weekly. 42% of the population reported that they had used marijuana at some time in their life. 11
The result is laws that are routinely flouted by large sections of the population, which brings other laws and the wider law enforcement system into disrepute. The rule of law is important and many studies have shown that countries where laws are respected by the citizenry and enforced justly have higher standards of living than those where laws are allowed to fall into disrepute. 12 We also want to highlight the unintended, but inevitable, consequences of the criminalisation of behaviour that is seen by a significant portion of the population to be pleasurable and acceptable. Because there is high demand for marijuana, but it is illegal, suppliers, who are by definition criminals, will be able to demand higher prices for the product.
Basically this represents a wealth transfer from users to suppliers.
There are many different sources of marijuana available to users in New Zealand, from home production through to purchase from commercial suppliers. Illegality of a popular good is an invitation to organised crime to enter the market. The New Zealand Police has stated that organised crime is linked to every step of the marijuana supply chain.
Buyers and sellers risk victimisation when transacting in a criminal market.
Producers will also probably supply lower quality products than would be likely under a “market” scenario and, of course, the usual protections of consumer and contract law are not available to consumers. Producers will also have to use methods other than recourse to the courts to enforce contractual obligations owed to them.
I think we know what they are.
We would suggest that a five-pronged approach should be studied as a solution to these problems:
- reduce demand using a tax
- regulation; to ensure that consumers are using a safe, quality product and have recourse to consumer protection laws to enforce their rights
- education, to ensure that consumers are making informed choices
- monitoring of use and effects.
Sounds a good way forward to me.