“When we push back against the drug problem, it gets smaller” John Walters, White House Drug Czar has claimed. Unfortunately for Walter's the latest cannabis stats from the US don't support his rather sweeping drug war hypothesis.
The total number of Americans (aged 12 and up) who have used illicit drugs is up from 108 million in 2002, the first full year of Walters’ tenure, to 114 million in 2007. And the number of Americans who’ve used cannabis has passed the 100 million mark for the first time — up from 95 million in 2002.
Its a confusing picture in some ways. In 2002, 46.0 percent of Americans had used an illicit drug at some point in their lives. In 2007 it was 46.1 percent. For cannabis, the rate went from 40.4 percent to 40.6 percent. Whilst only a marginal increase and probably within the limits of sampling error, it certainly does not signal the much heralded fall. Of course it depends on how you measure prevalence and only fair to point out that “current” (past 30 days) use of illicit drugs is down marginally since 2002 – from 8.3 percent to 8.0 percent for all illicit drugs, and the trend for cannabis is similar (although it also depends on the demographic breakdown, with a trend towards falling use for 12 to 17 year olds, more than matched by a perhaps suprising rise in over 50's) . However, on another, arguably even more significant measure, and despite all of Walters’ huffing and puffing, the number of Americans using cannabis for the first time has not budged during his tenure.
So how much harder have they pushed to achieve this apparent non-success on prevalence rates? This week the FBI published its annual report on Crime in the United States 2007. This reveals that,s once again, the number of people in the United States arrested for cannabis has gone up. A staggering 872,721 Americans were arrested for cannabis in 2007, and of those arrests, 89% or 775,138 were arrests for simple possession - not buying, selling, trafficking, or manufacture (growing).
This represents an increase in cannabis arrests of 5.2% from the previous year and the fifth straight year cannabis arrests have increased from the previous year. Now a cannabis user is arrested at the rate of 1 every 37 seconds and almost 100 cannabis arrests per hour. That is some fairly serious pushing one would think - yet the stats suggest the enforcement effort (and the huge financial and human costs it incurs) is, at best, largely irrelevant, or at worst, actively counterproductive.
That, of course, is with zero arrests for cigarette possession, compared with, what was it again, 775,138 marijuana possession arrests in 2007.Maybe, as Transform argued in its recent submission to the DoH consultation on tobacco control, we should be learning the lessons from tobacco successes (effective legal regulation and public health education), rather than cannabis failures (mass criminalisation and unregulated illegal markets). As the UK prepares to 'push back' harder on cannabis possession with the imminent re-reclassification of cannabis and attendant increase in possession penalties from 2 to 5 years (following 7 years of steady decline in use when they actually pushed back a bit less) do not expect any comment on the US stats from the Home Office.
Thanks to NORML and MPP blogs