Home > Deterrence effect of penalties upon adolescent cannabis use.

Smyth, Bobby P ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3797-5541, Davey, Aoife and Keenan, Eamon ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3395-3831 (2023) Deterrence effect of penalties upon adolescent cannabis use. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, Early online, pp. 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1017/ipm.2023.5.

External website: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/irish-jour...

OBJECTIVE Penalties are used in an effort to curtail drug use by citizens in most societies. There are growing calls for a reduction or elimination of such penalties. Deterrence theory suggests that use should increase if penalties reduce and vice versa. We sought to examine the relationship between changes to penalties for drug possession and adolescent cannabis use.

METHOD Ten instances of penalty change occurred in Europe between 2000 and 2014, seven of which involved penalty reduction and three involved penalty increase. We conducted a secondary analysis of a series of cross-sectional surveys of 15-16-year-old school children, the ESPAD surveys, which are conducted every four years. We focused on past month cannabis use. We anticipated that an eight-year time span before and after each penalty change would yield two data points either side of the change. A simple trend line was fitted to the data points for each country.

RESULTS In eight cases, the trend slope in past month cannabis use was in the direction predicted by deterrence theory, the two exceptions being the UK policy changes. Using the principals of binomial distributions, the likelihood of this happening by chance is 56/1024 = 0.05. The median change in the baseline prevalence rate was by 21%.

CONCLUSIONS The science seems far from settled on this issue. There remains a distinct possibility that reducing penalties could contribute to small increases in adolescent cannabis use and consequently increase cannabis-related harms. This possibility should be considered in any political decision-making influencing drug policy changes.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Intervention Type
Prevention, Harm reduction, Policy
16 February 2023
Identification #
Page Range
pp. 1-6
Early online

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