Letters Prohibition of cannabis

Legalisation doesn’t work

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6138 (Published 02 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6138
  1. Hans-Christian Raabe, general practitioner1
  1. 1Partington Central Surgery, Manchester M31 4FY, UK
  1. hcraabe{at}yahoo.com

The recent report of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) claims that cannabis should be legalised because its use has increased in the past 20 years despite increasing resources being spent on the criminal justice system.1 The BMJ’s uncritical endorsement of these claims is surprising.

The ICSDP did not look at data before 1990: use of marijuana in the past month by US high school seniors peaked in 1978 at 37.1% and declined to its lowest level of 11.9% in 1992. Similar trends have been observed for all drug use.2 The prohibition that the ICSDP report claimed had not worked was associated with a two thirds reduction in cannabis use.

The report has a cavalier attitude towards the harms of cannabis. However, since 2002 several key studies have shown the clear link between cannabis and serious mental health problems, including an increasing risk of developing schizophrenia.3

The report claims that selling cannabis through legal outlets would not result in increased cannabis use. However, in the Netherlands use increased sharply after quasi legalisation: in those aged 18-20 use in the past year increased from 15% in 1984 to 44% in 1996. This contrasts with steady or declining use in cities such as Oslo, Stockholm, and Hamburg, and countries such as Denmark, Germany, and the US over the same period.4 Empirical data therefore contradict the ICSDP claims.

The report does not mention Sweden, whose drug policy aims at creating a drug-free society. Sweden now has among the lowest rates of drug misuse, including cannabis misuse, in Europe.5 The Swedish example shows that the most successful approach to drug policy is based on drug prevention, not legalisation.


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6138


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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