Dec 15, 2009

One Hope Over the Line

Amidst the current 'Great Recession' there have been a number of interesting proposals to stimulate hiring, investment and lending. There have also been calls on both sides of the aisle to control government spending which has racked up record-setting deficits and has expanded the national debt.

One creative solution proposed by everyday Americans like the student in the clip below is the legalization of drugs and vice.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Waive your magical wand to change our laws, reduce the ridiculous prison population levels, and rake in the savings. Let us take a look at the impact of marijuana legalization on our economy.

Marijuana is a good place to start because there is pretty good evidence that any harm from marijuana use is negligible. Many Americans are already growing, selling and using it legally through the blossoming medical cannabis industry. Yet marijuana is also responsible for the vast majority of drug related arrests and citations in this country.

So legalization sounds good - you end the prohibition of a mostly harmless substance and thereby reduce the number of prisoners our taxes support and also reduce the number of legal proceedings necessary to appropriately process the accused, meaning municipalities can use resources that now go to catching, charging and incarcerating cannabis users for other activities.

It also makes sense to tax the sale of marijuana. There is precedent for such a tax, we already place levies on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol. With all the above savings and a new stream of revenue, you might think that legalization would put a big dent in budget deficits.

It won't. At best, legalization of cannabis products would account for $10-$14 billion a year in savings and increased revenue. Since we now measure our debt and our deficits in the trillions of dollars, the economic impact of legalization would be minimal for the country as a whole.

The biggest benefits from legalization would be local and regional in nature. Depressed areas like appalachia and the deep south are also prime areas for the outdoor cultivation of cannabis. Legalized marijuana would bring jobs to communities in these areas and would significantly increase revenues for the small community and county governments in these areas, allowing them to expand services to the part of our population which needs them the most.

The argument that legalizing drugs and vice would solve our economic woes and help end the deficit does not hold water, however we can't ignore the potential good that can come from policy change. Although the benefits of legalization would be minimal for the country as a whole, I believe that ending cannabis prohibition would help the most needy communities in the U.S. This makes marijuana legalization worth it in the long run.

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