It’s high time for legalization
The legalization of marijuana is an issue that has been gathering increasing attention on campus and across the nation. Washington University recently hosted a forum on the issue, featuring two-term former Republican Governor from New Mexico, Gary Johnson, known for his liberal use of the veto pen and courageous stance against the War on Drugs.
This Tuesday, in honor of the Marijuana holiday 4/20, Young Americans for Liberty gave out free brownies and information on marijuana legalization. A bit farther from campus, California is debating a ballot proposition which would make the state the first in the nation to completely legalize the controversial plant. Marijuana legalization is an idea whose time has come. Though it would be enough to state that restrictions on consumption of a plant are an unconstitutional and immoral infringement of personal liberty, such arguments are unconvincing to the more tyrannically inclined among us. Thus, I have dedicated this article to the economic reasons, which suggest that the government’s war on weed has been counterproductive, inefficient, costly and unwarranted.
Nearly a year ago, I had a discussion with Fred Raines, a Washington University professor emeritus, and expert on the economics of marijuana. He showed me several studies which indicated that marijuana was used as a substitute for alcohol. The implications of such a finding are profound. Because of its less intoxicating effects and relatively quick recovery time, if marijuana were used instead of alcohol, incidents of accidents caused by DWI would dramatically decrease. Given the extent to which the government is willing to go to prevent DWI—as evidenced by the bill pending in the Missouri House, which authorizes warrantless blood tests on drivers—it seems like they should have no problem with removing a costly drug law which could be just as effective in reducing DWIs.
Raines also informed me of several studies, which found over 80 medical uses for marijuana. If the government would allow medicinal marijuana, billions could be saved on costly and dangerous pharmaceutical drugs which the government currently purchases through Medicare Part D and other programs. This reality, of course, ensures that Big Pharma will be no friend of future legalization efforts.
The legalization of marijuana could also reduce the great burden that the victimless herb places on our criminal justice system. Right here in Missouri, conservative Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court shocked legislators this year when he said the following in his State of the Courts address: “For years we have waged a ‘war on drugs,’ enacted ‘three strikes and you’re out’ sentencing laws, and ‘thrown away the key’ to be tough on crime. What we did not do was check to see how much it costs, or whether we were winning or losing. In fact, it has cost us billions of dollars and we have just as much crime now as we did when we started.” In a time when state budgets are hard-pressed to make ends meet, marijuana legalization should be one of the first issues on the table, for the costly enforcement of its illegality is a drag on our government and our economy with little to no tangible benefit.
The government should recognize that legalization is exactly the way to be tough on crime. Mexican cartels, inner-city gangs, and even Al-Qaeda admit that the drug trade is their major source of revenue. Legalization would cripple the funding of organized crime, while at the same time, stimulate the economies of law-abiding citizens. Furthermore, there has been an oft noted correlation between the rise in drug prices, caused by restricted supply, and an increase in crime rates within the given area. Many economists have theorized that because criminals use crime to generate revenue, an increase in the price of drugs requires criminals, who dedicate a disproportionate percentage of their income to drug consumption, to raise more revenue through crime in order to maintain the same level of narcotic enjoyment. Any sincere attempt to protect citizens from crime should involve a frank discussion of drug legalization.
So who wins from prohibition of marijuana? The alcohol industry wins. Pfizer, Bayer and Merck win. The prison-industrial complex wins. Organized crime wins. The American Bar Association wins. And who loses? Nearly everyone else. It’s time we stop locking people up for the rest of their lives for smoking a relatively harmless plant. Prohibition does not make economic sense, it does not make legal sense, and it does not make moral sense. The organized interests of prohibition will do everything they can to preserve this costly and ridiculous handout to their industries. It is important for the rest of us to ensure that they don’t win.
Philip is a sophomore in Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]