The High Cost of Prohibition

Discussion in 'Marijuana Legalization' started by IndianaToker, Jun 26, 2005.

  1. By Bill Steigerwald, Tribune Review
    Source: Tribune Review

    USA -- Milton Friedman is no dopehead. But that's his hallowed name atop the list of more than 500 economists who've signed an open letter asking our Drug War-addled politicians to stop the prohibition of marijuana and instead legalize it and tax it. The petition asks the president, Congress and state officials to wake up, smell the ganja and look honestly at "The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition," a report recently done by Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron.

    Miron's research shows that if we came to our senses and stopped arresting 700,000 of our fellow Americans for mostly minor marijuana offenses each year, federal and local governments could garner $10 billion to $14 billion in savings and new tax revenues.

    About $7.7 billion would be saved on enforcement costs, says Miron, an expert on drug-related crime who conducted his report for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that works to liberalize marijuana laws.

    If pot were taxed like pop, Miron estimates revenues of at least $2.4 billion. Tax pot like society's most hurtful drugs -- booze and tobacco -- and revenues could be $6.2 billion.

    So far, Miron said Wednesday, his petition has created some publicity but hasn't exactly gotten Washington's drug generals shaking in their boots. Since early June he's been on a few talk shows, and Friedman, who's long advocated legalizing all drugs, told Forbes magazine, "There is no logical basis for the prohibition of marijuana."

    Miron, like Friedman, believes our current war on (some) drugs does far more harm to society than good. Openly libertarian, Miron said his research sought to answer two things:

    Do prohibition laws really reduce consumption of the commodity that's prohibited?

    And is the crime associated with illegal drugs generated by the drugs themselves or the prohibition of them?

    The effect of tough drug laws on drug consumption is not zero, but is "relatively minor," Miron said. "The claim that people like the Bill Bennetts make that there would be 80 million addicts if we legalized drugs just doesn't stand up to any evidence or any scrutiny."

    As for the causes of drug crime, Miron said his research "very much suggests that it is prohibition. It's not drug-consumption-related, it's fighting-over-disputes-in-the-illegal-drug-trade-related. And that's a result of prohibition, not a result of the drug."

    In other words, "If we banned Ben & Jerry's ice cream, there'd be drive-by shootings over Ben & Jerry's."

    Matthew Marlin is an economics professor at Duquesne University who signed Miron's petition with pleasure. Like all good libertarians, he doesn't believe there is a valid moral argument for prohibiting adults from using drugs -- or alcohol or guns or anything else that's potentially dangerous to society if ill-used.

    But like all good economists, Marlin has been trained to think in terms of benefits and costs. "That's how we look at the world," he said. "If you follow us, economists are always arguing back and forth about benefits and costs -- the Kyoto treaty versus reduced economic growth, free trade, etc.

    "We're split down the middle on everything, but you don't see us split down the middle on drug prohibition. It's a case where it's clear that the costs of prohibition exceed the benefits."

    If only more politicians thought like economists, the chances of ever fixing our stupid, harmful and immoral drug policy might not be so dismal.

    Bill Steigerwald is the Trib's associate editor.

    Newshawk: Sukoi
    Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
    Author: Bill Steigerwald, Tribune Review
    Published: Sunday, June 26, 2005
    Copyright: 2005 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
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