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The Blue & Gray Press | November 18, 2017

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U.S. Should Relight the Pot Problem

By MASON RAYNER

For years, the United States government has engaged in a self-described “War on Drugs,” prohibiting both the consumption and distribution of various narcotics, including marijuana. Prohibition of pot has been the law of the land for decades now, so we can attempt to address the successes and failures of the policy with a high degree of confidence.

Surveying the results, it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that the effects of prohibition have been an overall disaster. The costs have not come close to outweighing the benefits. New policies are desperately needed.

First, consider the financial costs that the government at the local, state and federal levels bears. Prosecuting and incarcerating non-violent pot offenders is a significant burden on prisons, courts and law enforcement agencies. For instance, in Virginia it costs roughly $25,000 a year to hold a prisoner, according to data from the Virginia Department of Corrections. Similarly, police forces and court systems divert significant portions of their limited budgets to arresting and prosecuting buyers and sellers of pot, drawing down money that could be better used to address crimes like murder, rape, assault and burglaries.

Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard, has estimated that legalization would save governments $12.9 billion a year, while taxation of pot at similar levels to the current taxes on alcohol and cigarettes would raise $6.7 billion annually. At a purely monetary level, a policy that is costing us $19.6 billion a year doesn’t make sense.

But the costs go far beyond dollars and cents. There are serious human costs as well. In Mexico, there has been widespread violence as drug cartels battle each other for market share. The collateral damage has included many innocent people.

The reason these cartels engage in such bloody turf wars is because trafficking pot across the American border is a very lucrative trade. Artificially high prices resulting from prohibition create huge profit margins for dealers, attracting organized crime and other opportunistic criminals.

American demand for pot remains strong, regardless of high prices, so U.S. marijuana policies have inadvertently strengthened the various drug traffickers throughout Latin America. High prices ensure a strong stream of revenue for them, and also create incentives to knock off their competitors, leading to instability across the region. It is for these reasons that former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia have all come out in favor of decriminalization (prosecuting sellers of drugs, but not users.)

But decriminalization is a halfway measure. We must remember that it is morally wrong and inconsistent with the limited government principles of the U.S. Constitution to imprison people for engaging in an activity that doesn’t harm others.

It could be argued that drug use imposes a negative externality on third parties (meaning that there are costs to the economic transaction not borne by either the buyer or seller, but rather society at large), but the solution to this problem is to simply tax the good in question, not criminalize it.

Arguments can be made against legalizing harder drugs (although Portugal has decriminalized all drugs quite successfully), but safety arguments for marijuana fail to impress. It is scientifically impossible to overdose on pot. Indeed, it could be argued that pot is much less hazardous to one’s health and bears less cost on society than alcohol and cigarette consumption.

Fourteen states have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes. The American Medical Association has endorsed research into the potential benefits of medical usage. Many people with chronic illnesses, such as cancer and Lou Gehrig’s disease, can ease their pain greatly through therapeutic use of pot. Is it right that in 36 states, people suffering from such diseases will be thrown in jail if they seek out the drug to alleviate their suffering?

Prohibition of marijuana has failed, just as prohibition of alcohol did. It is time to stop enriching criminals, throwing thousands of peaceful people in jail every year and wasting billions of dollars on enforcement of pot laws. Full legalization is the answer.

Comments

  1. Edmund Brown

    “We must remember that it is morally wrong and inconsistent with the limited government principles of the U.S. Constitution to imprison people for engaging in an activity that doesn’t harm others.”

    Oh, so Child Porn is okay. I like where this is going.

  2. Jason

    Edmund,

    You totally misrepresented that quote. Child porn still wouldn’t be okay because it violates the right of the child involved. Smoking weed in the privacy of your own home or a coffee shop type establishment wouldn’t violate the rights of others. That was a completely ridiculous statement to make and quite frankly is one of the reasons we can’t make progress in society on this issue. People make straw-man arguments like that.

  3. Jacob McMahon

    Most people opposed to legalizing marijuana would be surprised by the number of people in their community that use it on a regular basis. I’m not talking about stoned teenagers, but rather professional adults who happen to enjoy smoking a joint in the evening. I can’t see the problem.

  4. Phil

    The argument that legalizing marijuana is good for the economy misses an important fact: In spite of however much the government might save on law enforcement costs by legalizing marijuana, the cost to the economy of allowing marijuana and other substances to be used freely would be tremendous. Marijuana use has been demonstrated to severely impair judgment in the short term (there are obvious consequences there), and widespread recreational use would lead to a major decrease in productivity.

    It is admittedly difficult to be objective in discussing this issue–some people hate the idea of marijuana being legal (I’m one of these people), while others seem to be dogmatically in favor of it to the point that they can’t even begin to fathom why the government made it illegal in the first place.

    Whatever your personal preferences or beliefs, though, just think about what would happen to our already faltering economy if we were to become a nation of unproductive potheads.

  5. Erin

    Mad props Jacob…. that was a completely ridiculous thing to say. Child porn most definitely harms the child in more ways than a violation of privacy. I have a psychology degree and have learned a good bit about this in my studies; it does in fact foster much distress for the child and plagues them for the rest of their life. It leads to a range of mental health issues and a life of dysfunctional relationship. Sure, there are children that turn out perfectly fine after having been sexually molested; but by large, they don’t.

  6. Rowan

    Phil – so by your logic, productivity should have increased dramatically when alcohol was made illegal. Also, productivity in the Netherlands should have dropped significantly.

    Neither of these things happened.

    Yes, pot makes you unproductive when you smoke it. But TV makes you unproductive when you watch it. Should we just make everything that isn’t good for you or society’s productivity illegal, then?

  7. Phil

    Marijuana is a different story from alcohol. There’s a fundamental difference between the supply and demand levels for marijuana and alcohol; the demand for alcohol during Prohibition was so high that practically everyone found ways to get illegal access to it, or at least that’s my impression (I remember the term “speakeasy” from some history class).

    Making alcohol illegal was strategically the wrong thing to do, because the costs outweighed the benefits.

    One other difference–marijuana is inhaled, not imbibed. One major reason I personally don’t want marijuana to be legal is that I do not want to have to deal with the possibility of inhaling marijuana second-hand.

    TV is also fundamentally different from marijuana, in that it can distinctly impair judgment. (Admittedly, I think that watching too many reality TV shows can also impair judgment–but that’s just my opinion. I don’t own or watch a television.)

    So, in summary, the reasons for banning marijuana are two-fold: 1) it’s dangerous and impairs judgment, and 2) it’s bad for productivity and the economy. Even if you disagree with me on #2, I don’t see any way you can argue that marijuana isn’t dangerous or judgment-impairing. It also just creates an environment that I and many other normal people wouldn’t want to live in.

  8. Jacob McMahon

    Phil,

    If I’m not mistaken, you are not usually allowed drink in public and many states no longer allow smoking in bars. I doubt “normal” people such as yourself will be subjected to pot smoke unless you go to a concert, which is already a problem. I won’t more spend time picking apart your arguments which are about as sturdy as a straw house.

  9. Tiffany

    Why is this relevant? A tired argument about how weed doesn’t hurt anyone has no place in a university publication–every high schooler who’s ever touched a bong has had these same ideas. It’s well written and you make good points, but it’s not anything that we don’t already know. Be more interesting.

  10. Gabbi

    I have to respectfully disagree with Tiffany on this one. This is a debate that has long plagued our nation and having people as young as high schoolers writing well informed research papers can only help us in the long run. This issue needs to be on the forefronts of everyone’s mind and we can only hope that, in the end, logic will prevail.