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In Honor of the Holiday

April 21, 2010
by

4/20 is basically the only day of the year that I think merits a discussion about the legalization of marijuana, mostly because said discussion almost always devolves into a talking points shouting match.  My not-that-vast research on the subject reveals to me that most advocates believe that a) marijuana is not a drug, and if it is, it is certainly less harmful than other legal substances such as alcohol or prescription drugs and that b) both state and federal governments would save truckloads of taxpayer money via the revenue they would receive as a result of taxation (a point I’m not willing to concede—I believe governments would save immeasurably more taxpayer dollars by ceasing to finance the seeking out and prosecution of drug users and dealers).  Opponents, I gather, believe pot should be illegal for the same reason that other drugs are illegal—plus, weed is the quintessential junkie’s starter drug.  It’s probably easier to find Carmen Sandiego than it is to find a meth user who didn’t start out with pot.

The problem with having any debate, as the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently want, is that advocates and opponents are essentially limited to the talking points listed above.  Advocates can’t really prove that legalization wouldn’t created a nation of junkies, and opponents know the War of Drugs is costing us an arm and a leg at a time when we can’t afford it.  It’s no secret to many of us that the War on Drugs was lost a long, long time ago, and—as I find myself becoming more libertarian these days—I’m not so sure it’s anybody’s business what you do with your body anyway, especially not the federal government.  But, as is the case with much of libertarian thought, that doesn’t fly politically—a recent AP-CNBC poll found that a majority of the country is still opposed to legalization.

Okay, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but, as I usually imply, we have bigger fish to fry.  Here’s what a study (pdf) from Jeffrey A. Miron at Harvard said a couple of years ago on the budgetary implications of legalization:

The report estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $44.1 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $30.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $13.8 billion would accrue to the federal government. Approximately $12.9 billion of the savings would results from legalization of marijuana, $19.3 billion from legalization of cocaine and heroin, and $11.6 from legalization of other drugs.

Or, put more simply, the cost of the war in Afghanistan.  I know that doesn’t line up perfectly, but you get the picture.  Here’s my point: I can’t really think of an easier way to decrease the budget and size of the federal government than to quit trying to enforce prohibition of drugs on the populace.  That’s why I’m so surprised that the aforementioned poll revealed that Republicans are more likely to oppose legalization than Democrats and are less likely to believe that the cost of prohibition is “exorbitant”.  I thought our biggest problem right now as a country was spending and debt?  And we’re worried about… drugs?  I think we need to pick our battles a little bit better.

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