Advancing Knowledge on Cannabis Policy Using Evidence from North America

Published in: International Journal of Drug Policy Volume 42, April 2017, Pages 36-38. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2017.02.004

Posted on RAND.org on May 09, 2017

by Alex Stevens, Rosalie Liccardo Pacula

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For decades, drug policy campaigners around the world blamed the United States of America (USA) for the lack of change in international drug policy. The USA was seen as the most powerful supporter of the prohibitionist interpretation of the UN drug conventions, and as one its strictest domestic enforcers. The picture of the USA as chief architect of prohibition may always have been limiting (Collins, in press). It ignored, for example, the wave of decriminalization that was implemented in many US states in the 1970s (Pacula et al., 2005 ; MacCoun and Reuter, 2001) as well as state efforts to make cannabis available for medicinal purposes in the 1990s and 2000s (Pacula and Smart, 2017 ; Hall and Pacula, 2003). It has been decisively challenged by more recent developments. The decisions by the electorates of Colorado and Washington to legalise the sale of cannabis for recreational use in November 2012 went further than the many states that had already permitted sale for medical purposes. These were followed by similar votes in two more states (Oregon and Alaska) and the District of Columbia in November 2014, and then four more states (California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada) in November 2016. Today, more than 20% of U.S. population lives in a jurisdiction that has legalized cannabis for recreational purposes.

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