logo14Although people arrested for marijuana possession rarely end up in prison, an arrest record can hurt someone’s chances of getting a job or accessing social benefits later in life.

Analyses by Kilmer and Room found that the arrest rates for cannabis users who had used the drug in the past year are roughly 3 percent, and that none of those convicted of possession are incarcerated or received an administrative fine of more than $1,000 (USD). [i]

Project SAM seeks to establish a rational policy for marijuana possession that is for personal use only. A rational policy no longer relies only on the criminal justice system to address people whose only crime is smoking or possessing a small amount of marijuana.


Project SAM recommends the following dispositions:

logo1Marijuana Use/Possession

  • That possession or use of a small amount of marijuana be a civil offense subject to a mandatory health screening and marijuana-education program as appropriate. Referrals to treatment and/or social-support services should be made if needed. The individual could even be monitored for 6-12 months in a probation program designed to prevent further drug use.
  • That there is an end to the practice of “stop-and-frisk.”
  • That no marijuana use in any form is permitted in public view.
  • That smoke-free laws apply to marijuana and tobacco.
  • That there is expungement of any personal record regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana.

logo5Production, Distribution, Dealing and Sale of Marijuana

Smart Approaches to Marijuana seeks fair and proportionate penalties for these crimes and recommends:

  • That they remain misdemeanors or felonies based on amounts possessed.
  • An end to mandatory minimum sentences so judges can exercise discretion under the law.
  • Assessment and mandatory treatment in prison for those who are addicted. Appropriate aftercare should be provided by service providers licensed by the state upon release.
  • Restoration of all civil rights once sentences have been served for a personal use marijuana conviction.
  • Services for re-entry into the community through Justice Reinvestment or similar programs, such as the Drug Market Initiative(DMI).

logo10Marijuana and Driving

Smart Approaches to Marijuana seeks to keep America’s roadways safe for all drivers. Because no level of marijuana impairment has been established, SAM recommends that:

  • Driving with any amount of marijuana in one’s system be at least a misdemeanor. Repeat offenses need harsher punishments.
  • Driving under the influence of any amount of marijuana result in a mandatory health assessment, marijuana-education program and referral to treatment or social services.
  • If/when a marijuana impairment level is established, driving with impairment or higher levels of marijuana in one’s system be at least a misdemeanor. Repeat offenses need harsher punishments.

logo7Increased Education and Prevention

Research shows that crucial periods of risk for drug use and abuse occur during key life transitions, such as moving from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school. One of the most salient risks for youth drug use is associating with drug-abusing peers. Other important community-level risk factors for drug initiation are access to, and availability of, drugs; drug-trafficking patterns and normative beliefs that drug use is “generally tolerated.”[ia]

Softening attitudes are problematic because research demonstrates that illegal drug use among youth lowers their perception of risk (whether one thinks a drug is dangerous) and social disapproval of use. Several journal articles[ii] have substantiated the powerful association between perceived risk and use that cannot be explained away by concurrent shifts in a number of other lifestyle factors. Perceived risk remains a powerful predictor of use, even when controlling for a host of other known risk factors (Bachman et al., 1988; Bachman, Johnston, &O’Malley, 1990 & 1998).

Marijuana-prevention efforts are critical because marijuana is often the first illegal drug youth use. Preventing substance use before it begins not only makes sense, it is also cost-effective. For every dollar invested in prevention, a savings of up to $10 in treatment can be realized.[iii]

Generalized universal prevention programs to help build strong families and provide youth with the skills to make good, healthy decisions are necessary components of effective drug prevention. Drug prevention efforts also need to focus specifically on community risk and protective factors explicitly related to the initiation and use of illegal drugs. These include social norms, access, availability and perceptions of harm. For example, critical policy and environmental interventions (e.g. policies outlawing marijuana storefronts or limiting the sale of drug paraphernalia) are unique to substance abuse prevention and may not be as relevant to other forms of prevention, such as bullying and violence.

Prevention science in the field of substance abuse has made great progress in recent years, resulting in effective intervention to help children reduce the risk of initiating drug use at every step of the developmental path. Working more broadly with families, schools and communities, scientists have found effective ways to help people gain skills and approaches to stop problem behaviors — such as drug use — before they occur. These are called community-based approaches.

Even if community-based approaches have shown their effectiveness, it is also important to mention that other specific interventions, such as family-based approaches, life-skills building and behavior-skills-enhancement games have also proven to be effective.[iv]

logo21Increase Brief Interventions and Treatment

Because it is established that 1 in 11 marijuana users will become dependent (the rate rises to 1 in 6 adolescents who use under age 18), and that marijuana addiction produces a withdrawal syndrome, evidence-based marijuana treatment plays a vital role in any discussion of marijuana.

For those who have not progressed to full marijuana addiction, a process called SBIRT — screening, brief interventions and referral to treatment — may be appropriate. SBIRT services include an initial drug screen by general primary care physicians or counselors to identify at-risk people. Brief interventions may range from one meeting for educational consultation to 12 sessions of substance-use intervention. If necessary, there are referrals to treatment for specialized services, case management and follow-up support in the community.

A major method to treat marijuana addiction is through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy comprises a combination of approaches meant to increase self-control.

Motivational approaches, such as motivational interviewing, are best used to produce rapid, internally motivated change. These brief interventions focus on a non-confrontational therapeutic alliance to facilitate a patient’s willingness to change.[v]

[box type=”shadow”]Sources:

[i] Room, Robin, Benedikt Fischer, Wayne Hall, Simon Lenton, and Peter Reuter, Cannabis Policy: Moving Beyond Stalemate, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010.

[ia] Preventing Drug Abuse Among Children and Adolescents: Risk Factors and Protective Factors. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed December 2, 2011 from http://www.drugabuse.gov/prevention/risk.html

[ii] See multiple studies, including Bachman, J.G., Johnston, L.D., & O’Malley, P.M. (1990). Explaining the recent decline in cocaine use among young adults: Further evidence that perceived risks and disapproval lead to reduced drug use. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 31, 173-184.Bachman, J.G., Johnston, L.D., & O’Malley, P.M. (1998). Explaining the recent increases in students’ marijuana use: The impacts of perceived risks and disapproval from 1976 through 1996. American Journal of Public Health, 88, 887-892.Bachman, J.G., Johnston, L.D., & O’Malley, P.M. (1988). Explaining the recent decline in marijuana use: Differentiating the effects of perceived risks, disapproval and general lifestyle factors. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 29, 92-112. Johnston, L.D. (1991). Toward a theory of drug epidemics. In R.L. Donohew, H. Syper, & W. Bukoski (Eds.). Persuasive communication and drug abuse prevention (pp. 93-132). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Bachman, J.G., Johnston, L.D., & O’Malley, P.M. (1998). National survey results on drug use from Monitoring the Future study, 1975-1998: Volume I: Secondary school students. (NIH Publication No. 98-4345).

[iii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse (2003). Preventing Drug Abuse among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide for Parents, Educators, and Community Leaders (2nd Edition). NIH Publication No. 04-4212 (A).[/box]

[iv] See Faggiano F, Vigna-Taglianti F, Versino E, Zambon A, Borraccino A, Lemma P. (2008). School-based prevention for illicit drugs’ use. The Cochrane Reviews, Found December 2011 at http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD003020/school-based-prevention-for-illicit-drugs-use. Also see Gates S, McCambridge J, Smith LA, Foxcroft D. (2009). Interventions for prevention of drug use by young people delivered in non-school settings. The Cochrane Review. Found December 2011 at http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD005030/interventions-delivered-to-young-people-in-non-school-settings-for-the-prevention-of-drug-use http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD005030/interventions-delivered-to-young-people-in-non-school-settings-for-the-prevention-of-drug-use.

[v] Carroll, KM (2005). Recent advances in the psychotherapy of addictive disorders. Current Psychiatry Reports, 7:329-336.[/box]