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Published by Mary | Filed under Markets
The War on Drugs is increasingly perceived as a losing battle and a growing number of proponents for the legalization of marijuana believe that instead of outlawing the drug, regulating and taxing it would have beneficial economic, social and political outcomes that merit serious consideration.
The Case For Legalization
By making marijuana legal, marijuana advocates claim that law enforcement could refocus their resources on more serious crimes; criminals would no longer profit from the illegal trafficking and selling of marijuana; a legitimate agricultural industry as well as spinoff industries (coffee shops, industrial hemp, paraphernalia) would emerge creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and, considerable tax revenues could be collected.
While opponents suggest that legalization or even decriminalization would actually increase crime and marijuana use, according to a 2008 World Health Organization survey, rates of marijuana use in the United States where marijuana is illegal are among the highest in the world (42.4%) and more than double the Netherlands (19.8%) (which is relatively lax in regulating marijuana). The Dutch government is also able to support approximately 90% of help-seeking addicts with detoxification programs.
Portugal, the first European country to abolish all criminal penalties for personal drug possession is yet another compelling case. Five years after the start of decriminalization, illegal drug use by teenagers declined, the rate of HIV infections among drug users dropped, deaths related to heroin and similar drugs was cut by more than half, and the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction doubled, while usage in the EU continued to increase, including in states with “hard-line drug policies”. Moreover, following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U. (10%). The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12 (39.8%) Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana [Source].
U.S. Support for Legalizing Marijuana
The sections in red represent the states in the U.S. in which marijuana is illegal:
According to Gallup’s October Crime poll 44% of Americans are in favor of making marijuana legal while 54% are opposed. Basic support for legalization is highest among self-proclaimed liberals with 78% in favor. In contrast, 72% of people who consider themselves conservatives are opposed.
According to the Gallup report, if public support were to continue growing at a rate of 1% to 2% as it has since 2000, the majority of Americans could favour marijuana legalization in as little as four years.
The Medical Marijuana Debate
In 2003, 75% of Americans favoured allowing doctors to legally prescribe marijuana to patients in order to reduce pain and suffering.
So far 13 U.S. states have enacted laws that legalized medicinal marijuana:
The FDA claims that “smoking marijuana has no currently accepted or proven medical use in the United States and is not an approved medical treatment”. Regarding states that have passed legislation allowing the medical use of marijuana, the FDA claims “these measures are inconsistent with efforts to ensure that medications undergo the rigorous scientific scrutiny of the FDA approval process and are proven safe and effective.”
In 2005, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released a study showing that youth who use marijuana are more likely to develop serious mental health problems, including depression and schizophrenia. Yet there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the fact that the Health and Human Services Division of the federal government holds a patent for medical marijuana. The patent, issued October 2003 states that “cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties” and can be useful in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV and dementia among many more.
And contrary to what researchers had thought, there is still no link between marijuana and lung cancer. Dr. Donald Tashkin, a UCLA pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years, hypothesized that marijuana would raise the risk of cancer. Tashkin’s study, involved 1,200 people in Los Angeles who had lung, neck or head cancer and an additional 1,040 people without cancer matched by age, sex and neighborhood. Tashkin found that even the very heavy marijuana smokers who had lit up more than 22,000 times, showed no increased incidence of the three cancers studied.
The push to legalize marijuana is making most headway in California, a stark contrast to back in 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled in Raich v. Gonzales, that the federal government could prosecute medical marijuana patients. Several medical marijuana dispensaries in California were subject to Drug Enforcement Administration raids. Critics such as David Berger, an assistant city attorney for the city of Los Angeles, backed the decision saying that not even 10% of the dispensaries sell marijuana for legitimate reasons and that lack of regulation has led to dispensaries operating for profit, rather than for the public good.
That policy has since been revised and federal attorneys can no longer prosecute patients who use marijuana for medical reasons or dispensaries in states where it has been legalized.
Is California Dreaming?
The skiing town of Breckenridge, Colorado voted by a margin of nearly 3 to 1 to legalize the private possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older just two days ago. The ordinance also removes criminal penalties for the possession of bongs, pipes and other drug paraphernalia [Source] . Now, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has welcomed public debate on proposals to legalize and tax marijuana, and tax officials estimate the legislation could bring the struggling state over $1.2 billion a year. Some are saying the Obama administration’s more hands-off approach of the federal government toward medical marijuana could be a step towards legalization of the drug. This would be the first such law to ever be passed in the history of the United States.
According to a National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) report, marijuana legalization could yield California taxpayers over $1.2 billion per year and additional spinoff benefits of up to $12-$18 billion. Dr. Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML and co-founder of the California Drug Policy Reform Coalition has estimated that legalization could save California over $200 million per year in in law enforcement costs, including arrests, prosecutions, trials and imprisonment of marijuana offenders. Retail sales on the legal market could range from $3 - $4.5 billion, generating another $240-$360 million in sales taxes. NORML also proposes an excise taxes which could be used to regulate the price of marijuana and generate revenues for the state. At current levels of consumption, an excise tax of $1 per gram of marijuana would yield $430 - $510 million per year. According to the US Dept of Health & Human Services SAMHSA 2007 survey of drug use, 1.95 million Californians admit to having used marijuana in the past month. Total marijuana consumption by Californians is estimated at 1.2 to 1.4 million grams per day, or about 0.95 to 1.1 million pounds per year.
Despite this very persuasive case, the California governor, who has admitted to smoking marijuana in the past (as seen in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron), said a decision to legalize marijuana, should not be made on the basis of raising revenues alone.
Marijuana and Crime
Many argue that the U.S. drug war, which costs an estimated $35 billion a year, has had a minimal impact on consumption of illicit substances. Moreover, the violence along the U.S-Mexico border is said to be fueled 65%-70% by the marijuana trade. Harvard economist, Jeffrey A. Miron, says the answer to the drug problem is to tackle demand. Miron is controversial in his claims, saying that he not only believes marijuana should be legal but that all drugs must be in order to truly put a stop to drug-related crimes and violence. Like the prohibition of alcohol in the 20’s and 30’, any attempt to drive a market down will find a way to emerge underground.
Miron estimates that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue ($6.7 billion from marijuana, $22.5 billion from cocaine and heroin, the remainder from other drugs).
Thus far, the only ones really profiting from this war, are those trafficking the drugs. Miron told CNN: “A lot of the violence we’re seeing and a lot of the underground market is not related to marijuana but related to the other drugs. If we only did marijuana we would only have a small impact on the violence and corruption and disruption of other countries that is caused by U.S. prohibition of drugs and the U.S. forcing prohibition of drugs on other countries.”
Stopping a violent drug trade, saving millions of dollars by no longer pursuing marijuana cases, generating billions of dollars in sales taxes, the potential from a government regulated marijuana industry is becoming too evident to sweep under the rug and it will be very interesting to see how things will unfold in California. After all if the United States were to legalize marijuana, wouldn’t the rest of the world almost immediately legalize as well?