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Illustration | Brittany England

Illustration | Brittany England

The cost of legalizing Marijuana

September 4, 2014

Regardless of whether you’re pro or anti on the subject of the legalization of marijuana, the cold hard facts are the economical ones. Enforcing the prohibition of marijuana currently costs the American government approximately $1 billion every year.

The Marijuana Policy Project estimates that replacing this with a system where common-sense regulation is used instead, something that is currently being favorably discussed, could cost between $10 and $14 billion dollars every year, according to Jeffrey A. Miron, professor of economics at Harvard University.

However legalizing cannabis entirely would have very minimal economic implications, and the government would even be able to monitor and tax the drug, leading to an increased revenue stream that could be used to fund other vital public services.

Rehabs.com suggest that a taxed ‘state store’ system would also allow each state to control their pot supply chain. The figures alone make the decision seem like a simple one.
Of course in real terms, the legalization debate isn’t quite as simple as that.

CNBC News has suggested that legalization will eventually lead to a greater need for drug education, rehabilitation and treatment, and therefore the increased revenue gained from legalization will be spent, and more, on the treatment of ‘pot heads’. This argument is one that is often touted, but it is horribly flawed.

Marijuana is not a highly addictive drug, nor is it, as so many school drug counsellors suggest, a gateway drug to other harder drugs. Legalizing marijuana will not lead otherwise uninterested teens to trying it, and those 18.9 million people currently using the drug are unlikely to be influenced by its legal or illegal status.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are 23.9 million illicit drug users in the United States; with 18.9 million of those being marijuana users.

Imagine how dramatically the country’s perceived ‘drug epidemic’ would decrease were those people removed from the overall figures? Government spending on anti-drug commercials and media outreach could also be decreased and reinvested into something more worthwhile: universal healthcare perhaps?

What is clear is that there is a huge market for marijuana: A market that could generate up to $6 billion in taxes each year, if marijuana were taxed at the same rate as tobacco and alcohol. At present this is a black market where unregulated drug dealers and violent gangs are dominating, no profit is making its way into the national purse, and no regulations for the quality of the product are in place: Surely there has to be a better way?

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