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The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and in San Francisco


  • Reinarman, C.
  • Cohen, P.D.A.
  • Kaal, H.L.


Objectives. We tested the premise that punishment for cannabis use deters use and thereby benefits public health. Methods. We compared representative samples of experienced cannabis users in similar cities with opposing cannabis policies-Amsterdam, the Netherlands (decriminalization), and San Francisco, Calif (criminalization). We compared age at onset, regular and maximum use, frequency and quantity of use over time, intensity and duration of intoxication, career use patterns, and other drug use. Results. With the exception of higher drug use in San Francisco, we found strong similarities across both cities. We found no evidence to support claims that criminalization reduces use or that decriminalization increases use. Conclusions. Drug policies may have less impact on cannabis use than is currently thought.

Suggested Citation

  • Reinarman, C. & Cohen, P.D.A. & Kaal, H.L., 2004. "The Limited Relevance of Drug Policy: Cannabis in Amsterdam and in San Francisco," American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, vol. 94(5), pages 836-842.
  • Handle: RePEc:aph:ajpbhl:2004:94:5:836-842_8

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    Cited by:

    1. Anne Line Bretteville‐Jensen & Liana Jacobi, 2011. "Climbing the drug staircase: a Bayesian analysis of the initiation of hard drug use," Journal of Applied Econometrics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(7), pages 1157-1186, November.
    2. van Ours, J.C., 2005. "Cannabis Use When it's Legal," Other publications TiSEM 88955fe2-81a7-4d37-8325-1, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    3. Jan C. van Ours, 2006. "Dynamics in the use of drugs," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 15(12), pages 1283-1294, December.
    4. Félix, Sónia & Portugal, Pedro & Tavares, Ana, 2017. "Going after the Addiction, Not the Addicted: The Impact of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal," IZA Discussion Papers 10895, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. van Winden Frans A.A.M. & Ash Elliott, 2012. "On the Behavioral Economics of Crime," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 181-213, June.
    6. Cervený, J. & van Ours, J.C. & Chomynova, Pavla & Mravcik, Viktor, 2015. "Cannabis Decriminalization and the Age of Onset of Cannabis Use," Discussion Paper 2015-007, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    7. Gunadi, Christian & Shi, Yuyan, 2022. "Cannabis decriminalization and racial disparity in arrests for cannabis possession," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 293(C).

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