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November 17, 2022

"Assessing the Status of Minors in Possession: Marijuana Versus Alcohol"

The title of this post is the title of this new article available via SSRN authored by Mitchell F. Crusto, Jillian Morrison and Laurel C. Taylor.  (Disclosure: this paper was supported by a grant from the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.)  Here is its abstract:

The legalization and decriminalization of marijuana at state level has an impact on adult use, as well as on use by minors. In many jurisdictions, minor use and possession of marijuana is regulated much like that of alcohol.  This paper examines the statutory language of laws regulating possession of marijuana by minors across states in which marijuana is legalized, decriminalized, and illegal.  From there, data was collected to look at the arrest rates for minors in three case study jurisdictions.  The purpose of this comparison was to reveal how laws criminalizing minors in possession of marijuana are carried out as reflected in the arrest rates of reporting jurisdictions. 

Overall marijuana arrests for minors in possession decreased from 2018 to 2020 across every state case example provided.  Additionally, based on the case examples provided in those states that decriminalized marijuana, arrests for juveniles were lower overall than those with legalized or illegal status.  While further analysis is needed, the study found positive results, noting that states across the board appear to be decreasing arrest rates for marijuana possession, and more and more states are looking to alcohol violation statutes to craft their marijuana violation statutes for minors.  Accordingly, the public shift in thinking about marijuana appears to be impacting the practicalities of drafting statutes and mandating arrests for the better: to create a less hostile approach with less punitive impact on minors.

November 17, 2022 at 08:58 AM | Permalink


What does “decreasing arrest rates” actually mean? Minors are using it less (not likely) or cops aren’t bothering to make such arrests because it is otherwise legal and they are not getting prosecuted, like petty theft, anyway?

With the proven mental health issues caused by minors using marijuana, I doubt this is something to be cheered.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Nov 17, 2022 10:20:49 AM

I would note that in the recently passed referendum legalizing marijuana use by adults in Missouri, the language appears makes MIP (MJ) a civil infraction. MIP (Alcohol) is a misdemeanor.

Posted by: tmm | Nov 17, 2022 11:02:52 AM

I am pretty sure, Tarls, that fewer arrests means fewer arrests, not less use.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 17, 2022 12:53:57 PM


Of course it does, yet does the paper ever get into the fact that use is not lower? They kind of leave that assumption hanging, don’t you think?

Do you believe it is a good thing that the population most likely to develop serious life long mental illness has more access with less government interdiction?

This would be an interesting discussion because of your supposed libertarian beliefs. On one hand, you have called the drug war a failure in scope and size of prohibition and that drug use should be legal. So, do you want a drug war on minors or leave it a hell scape for minors to develop psychoses? If a drug war will not work with adults, what makes you believe it will work with minors in an era when it becomes more and more readily available?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Nov 17, 2022 4:59:53 PM

Tarls, if you download the paper, which requires only two clicks, you can see the paper discusses use by minors at pages 2-3.

My general view on this matter is that criminal prohibitions are generally a blunt tool to use to advance public health concerns. The Shafer Commission, appointed by Prez Nixon, nicely captured my views of these matters 50 years ago:

"We believe that the criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in efforts to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

The Shafer Commission was addressing adult use, but I think its views make sense for juvenile use as well. The Shafer Commission, wisely in my view, suggested that the public and its policy-makers seek primarily to discourage "heavy and very heavy use" of marijuana, and that seems to me especially approriate for minors. But I do not think this is wisely or effectively achieved through "drug war" tactics involving criminal arrests and prosecutions and punitive sanctions (and often lifelong collateral consequences). Rather, we have used range of public health and other civil/social/cultural means to discourage heavy use of legal drugs by minors which seems to have worked reasonably well with tobacco and alcohol.

That said, as with many potentially dangerous consumer products, I welcome significant regulation to encourage awareness of the product's harms and seek to minimize harms (eg, I favor various packagaing/labeling requirements, THC limits, and setting taxes to price many out of heavy use and to generate revenue for public health campaigns --- as has been done to reasonably good public health effect with alcohol and tobacco products).

I am hopeful sound legalization policies can keep us from a hell scape, but the 100,000 yearly overdose deaths is a reminder that prohibition of drugs has not itself prevented hell scape realities.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 17, 2022 9:58:55 PM

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