Video: Time to legalize marijuana?

posted at 10:15 am on April 19, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Nick Gillespie at Reason TV gives three reasons for the US to legalize and regulate marijuana on the same basis as alcohol. Think of this as a kitchen-sink presentation, as Nick gives a smorgasbord of motivations. Think the government needs more revenue? Taxes could net as much as $6 billion a year, and ending prohibition will save another $8 billion. He also uses a traditional libertarian argument, as well as the pessimistic fatalist argument:

1. The tax revenue and law enforcement savings. A 2005 cost-benefit analysis done by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron found that legalizing marijuana and taxing it similar to alcohol would generate over $6 billion in new revenue and save nearly $8 billion in direct law enforcement costs. Pot is already the biggest cash crop in many states; bringing it into the open market would pump all sorts of energy into the economy.

2. It’s going to happen anyway, so why delay the inevitable? Increasing numbers of Americans realize that pot prohibition is an ineffective and costly policy. A 2009 poll by Zogby found that 52 percent of Americans agreed that marijuana should be taxed and regulated like booze. A Field Poll last year of California residents, who will vote on a legalization ballot initiative in the fall, found that 56 percent wanted legalization. Other polls show historically high percentages favoring legalization. In a world of busted budgets, it’s crystal clear that spending time and energy policing marijuana is not worth it.

3. Keep Your Laws Off Our Bodies. Never mind that by virtually every measure, pot is safer and less than disruptive than booze. Pot prohibition in the 1930s was the result of hysteria, not serious threats to society. We own our bodies and should be free to eat, drink, and smoke what we want. And to take responsibility for our actions, whether we’re straight or we’re stoned.

In my mind, the only fully legitimate argument among the three is the last. I don’t think the federal government needs more revenue, and I’m a little surprised to hear a libertarian offer that as a feature rather than a bug.  The reduction in law-enforcement cost is a good argument, but that’s more of a side effect from the third argument rather than the first.  After all, additional taxes and regulation will bring its own government costs.  Inevitability in this case is rather weak; when it’s legalized, it will be legalized, but that doesn’t necessarily make it inevitable.  If it happens, we can then set those effective and efficient controls.

I agree, though, that marijuana intake is a personal decision in the same sense as alcohol.  The two don’t differ much in terms of danger to the user or those around the user, and alcohol is more toxic.  While we’re marching in the streets to demand an end to nanny-state policies, we should at least reconsider this 72-year-old nanny-state anachronism.


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