A revenue and legalization lesson from FDR

By J Saft
February 25, 2009

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

(Correcting name of academic to Peter Reuter on Feb 27)

Want to help fund the bank bailout, ease California’s budget crisis and shore up strained U.S. finances? Legalize drugs, tax the trade and save on interdiction, domestic enforcement and the prison and court system.

I’m only partly joking.

It won’t solve all of the U.S.’s problems and lord knows will cause some new ones, but the money is undeniably big enough to make a dent.

After all, it certainly helped Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who legalized alcohol in 1933 in the midst of the Depression and after more than a decade of prohibition, thus bringing a half a billion in 1933 dollars into public coffers in the form of tax revenue. By 1936, alcohol taxes were 13 percent of Federal revenue.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a similar opportunity. He is facing a $42 billion budget deficit, his prisons are filled to bursting, in substantial part with people in on drug-related crime, and he will soon be forced by judicial edict to start freeing people. He also has an offer from a group call Let Us Pay Taxes, which claims to represent the marijuana industry and is willing to pay $1 billion annually in taxes if only he will legalize. No doubt they are low-balling.

The U.N. estimates the value of the U.S. cannabis market at $64 billion annually, while a paper by academics Jonathan Caulkins and Peter Reuter calculates that about half of the costs of drugs are in one way or another attributable by factors linked to interdiction and its perils (click here to read Render’s paper in pdf format).

But even if you cut the U.N. number in half and only tax it at 50 percent, a lower tax than many states and localities put on tobacco, you’d still get more than $15 billion nationwide. If California consumes its 13 percent share, in line with GDP, and I am betting it does, you are looking at something on the order of $2 billion even before you take account of lower costs. Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron has a lower estimate, at $7.7 billion annually nationally in lower spending and $6.2 billion in extra revenues.

Of course, these figures could fluctuate wildly depending on levels of compliance and market factors.
But why stop at cannabis? Just as Roosevelt decided that prohibition of alcohol was a failed policy the U.S. could no longer afford, perhaps the costs of re-building the U.S. banking system and lifting the country out of a severe recession will prompt another radical plans. I wouldn’t bet on it, but strange things are happening all over.

A BILLION HERE, A BILLION THERE

And if we start including other drugs the billions will only mount. There is another $100 billion in annual illegal drug sales in the U.S. outside of cannabis, which might produce another $25 billion annually in revenue by the same maths. The U.S. Federal government alone spent $13 billion on the drugs war in 2002, not counting prison costs.

Then there are other costs of the American drug interdiction efforts internationally, not least in Afghanistan, where opium revenue fuels the Taliban. The U.S. spends more than $1 billion a year there on anti-drug efforts, but opium money undoubtedly raises the total costs for the U.S. by much more.

The stream of income from all of this extending into the future is very valuable indeed and would go a way towards paying the price of fixing the banking system.

This brings us to another point of weakness for the U.S.; namely its ability to fund all of the costs it has already taken on and is likely to have to shoulder in the next several years. Moody’s credit rating agency did what everyone has pretty much taken for granted for a while not long ago, acknowledging that the U.S.’s AAA credit rating is being “tested” and falls into a category below those on the top shelf like Canada and Germany.

It’s not all wine and roses though. Cheaper legal drugs may lead to a spike in use, which might hit productivity and impose lots of costs, such as higher health and other welfare costs. All of those prison, military and law enforcement jobs are a huge source of stimulus, and the cut backs implied by legalization would raise transitional problems.

Moreover, drug legalisation, just like for alcohol, is essentially a moral and political decision about which reasonable people can disagree. It’s also, to put it mildly, not very likely.

Still the war on drugs rolls on, costing billions, creating huge incentives for violence and crime, imprisoning hundreds of thousands and seemingly never much closer to victory. The waste and misery involved must make it rival the sub-prime bubble as a misallocation of resources.

Perhaps one stone will end up killing two birds.

– At the time of publication James Saft did not own any direct investments in securities mentioned in this article. He may be an owner indirectly as an investor in a fund. For previous columns by James Saft, click here. –

103 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I like the disclaimer at the end: “James Saft did not own any direct investments…” it is conceivable that he may at other times invest direclty into said market.

Posted by doctherooster | Report as abusive

This is no joke. I’d be very surprised if our legislators had to wisdom or will to do this, but it is an action that is over due.
Stop treating otherwise law abiding citizens as criminals. What is criminal is the percentage of our population that is in prison. Free up the courts and the prison system so they can function more as they were meant to. Raise revenues, lower expenditures and spend some interdiction money on treatment for those that need it.
Nah, makes too much sense.

Posted by Alan Chernin | Report as abusive

There’s one thing always bothers me about suggestions like this, and maybe James is one person smart enough to spot the hole in my thinking.

Basically, it boils down to the fact that criminals don’t have pension plans. If we legalise commonly trafficked drugs, what will the traffickers do? It seems unlikely that they will simply turn to legal business, start paying taxes and stop having turf wars.

One thing they might do is turn to other, still illegal drugs. There is the potential for a kind of arms race here, as the state legalises more and more drugs, and the traffickers turn to ever more novel drugs. This is an arms race the traffickers, I think, are bound to win (and especially in countries like the UK who might be presumed to treat addicts on the NHS), because unlike the state, they don’t much care whether their customers live or die. So they’ll very likely be able to come up with a product so toxic that no state could countenance legalising it, let alone prescribing it.

Or if not drugs, what else might they turn to? Fake pharmaceuticals? That problem is already close to being out of control; if the traffickers turned their attention to it full time, there might be some very nasty consequences. Human trafficking? Counterfeit parts for aircraft and cars? Almost as bad.

I think we need to devote more thought to understanding why legalising alcohol worked. Perhaps the US was lucky in that in those days, with the exception of a few celebrities, the bootleg trade was a lot less organised (and globalised) than the drug trade is now?

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

“At the time of publication James Saft did not own any direct investments in securities mentioned in this article. He may be an owner indirectly as an investor in a fund. For previous columns by James Saft, click here. –”

Does this statement include the “investments” Mr. Saft may hold in the aforementioned controlled substances!

Posted by chaudfroid | Report as abusive

The cat is out of the bag and our cabal of Prohibitionists are down to less than a leg to stand on… As hard as they’ve tried to keep discussion of the issue from the mainstream, it’s here.

Legalization. Say it… “le-gal-i-za-tion”

That’s good… say it again… “legalization”

See, it isn’t that hard is it? Now, understand it. Understand that to maintain drugs Prohibition is to keep the drug thugs and the drug cartels fat and happy. The drug war is their cash cow, the goose laying their golden eggs. Legalization would cook their goose…

I’ve got a better solution. Why not impose a mandatory 5 year sentence for drug possession (no matter who) unless you give up the name of the person who supplied the drugs.
This way you can go back up the food chain an Hopefully eliminate the source.

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Yes Yes Yes! I am not an advocate of drug use at all BUT the war on drugs is as much a failure as prohibition was in the 20s. We have allowed a criminal distribution network with NO morals to become wealthier than some countries. Addicts will ALWAYS have problems legal or not, legalization removes the revenue stream from immoral elements and allows us to tax/fund help for addicts that actually want help.

Posted by scott_mich | Report as abusive

Prohibition does nothing except empower the wrong people. It hasn’t eliminated demand for or availability of drugs. Plus, you have to be pretty steeped in anti-drug propaganda to think it is just to put people in jail for smoking a plant that is less harmful than alcohol.

Posted by Will Almand | Report as abusive

In many years of work as a nurse I have NEVER seen a person in the hospital because of marijuana use/abuse. Alcohol is the #1 most dangerous drug in America, from a medical standpoint-ask anyone in the medical field.
As for drugs like heroin,from what I have seen, working near a major Physics ‘Laboratory’ in the Southwest for many years, this and other such drugs are already legal for all practical purposes. The ‘users’ get free medical care for any and all needs. Medicare/medicaid-your tax dollars at work, also the ‘indigent fund’, and other such freebies pay for all their needs. These people are experts at getting everything for nothing (I can imagine in California it is even more extreme), the health care system has figured out how to get their piece of this financial pie by treating and billing whoever will pay (you can’t have these people dieing by the side of the road-it looks bad for the country in the international press). The drug use is multi-generational in families, everyone knows who these people are, there are no legal repercussions. To tell the truth after working around these people for years I mostly forget that these drugs are even ‘illegal’ until I read something like this. I don’t consider the users to be any more or less ‘crooked’ than the banking people who have stolen all the money; nothing is going to happen to those crooks either.

Posted by QueZen | Report as abusive

Some years ago, one of our major scientific bodies, possibly the National Science Foundation, studied how much cocaine you could prevent the use of by spending $1 million various ways. The least was mandatory sentencing; a couple of pounds. The most was education and treatment; you would need a forklift. Sorry to be vague; this is from memory.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

What is $$ cost to put someone in jail for 5 years … just the prison cost?

Posted by Carolyn | Report as abusive

Its great this discussion is beginning to get serious play. Some may recall, the late, great William F. Buckley (founder, editor, publisher of the National Review) was a very strong proponent of general narcotics legalization back in the 1980′s.

Ian’s comments are apparently shared by many. In today’s Dallas Morning News, editorial writer Tod Robberson stated basically the same concern: if we legal various narcotics what will the cartels do, just disband and go home or find something else to smuggle? While it may be interesting to ponder such things it really amounts to “fear of the unknown”. It is really not a serious argument for not doing what obviously the right thing. With the gun battles, beheadings, bodies strung from highway overpasses with dire warning banners attached, I’m not sure what worse problem could “fill the vacuum” after legalization.

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

It is time to legalize marijuana- a so-called “drug” that is so widely used and readily available it is almost as if it is legal right now. Instead of simply stuffing my dealers’ wallets full of cash, why not help out my country in the process? Also, legalizing would do wonders for police-community relations, particularly among young people. It is time to let our law enforcement and courts get back to their real jobs instead of harassing and imprisoning the peaceful public.

Posted by Dre | Report as abusive

They should legalize Marijuana, already been proven by dozen of studies to be less lethal and addictive than tobacco, however there are no huge companies lobbying for marijuana as there are for tobacco. Alcohol is also more lethal than Marijuana and it has been around forever. I think congress should stand up and let their heads take a breather, and consider this along with prostitution.
Prostitution may give the night workers some hope of Social Security and retirement plans that they can not hope for now, and push some health plan to require them regular checks, to make sure they are safe. They already have this in other countries and people are not killing each other over this everyday, or spending billions to control social deficiencies that begin in everyone’s home. If you want to reduce this human necessity to incur in illegal activities start by injecting ethics and morals, with a high dose of family values, that every hard working parent can not do while on the streets 12 to 14 hours a day, just to raise a socially immoral being. Lets’ fight the wars worth winning right in our backyard, and stop trying to police the whole world while our own is crumbling apart.

Posted by Vincent | Report as abusive

@ David
That type of suggestion illustrates your total lack of understanding of the issue and its complexities. Hey here’s an idea- how about we lock up ALL of the roughly 1/3 of young Americans (and I’d consider that a conservative estimate) who’ve tried pot, instead of wasting the human potential of mere thousands of your fellow Americans annually in our time of need. From what you’ve said I assume you’d consider it justified based on the extreme danger posed to you personally by other people’s consumption of an intoxicant with a history of human use stretching back at least 6,000 years. Because I’m sure with just another few billion dollars a year and a few hundred more prisons we can finally stop this insidious plague- since there are so many studies providing evidence of the effectiveness of this war on drugs so far. I’m also sure that you’d be excited to cover this massive undertaking from your taxes. Try learning a little something about a subject before you comment on it, it makes for healthier debate.

Posted by Art | Report as abusive

I say lock ‘em all up!- the idiots who still believe in the Drug War, that is. “Drug-Free America” lol! Don’t be a Patsy.
Read this morn that the Mexican Atty Gen says they’ve got the cartels on the ropes. I’m not kidding. Dallas-Morning News.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

To David and Ian,

David, you are abosolutly right!! we should just lock up these people and remove them from society.

But certainly dont legalize drugs: here are the reasons why. It is in our interest (of the U.S) to see Mexico become a failed state, as our consumption of these drugs and our “legalized weapons program” feeds instabiltiy and chaos in Mexico. It is in the U.S.’s interest to watch itself fall into localised chaos, as gangs and violent criminal elements are empowered with unlimited cashflow. – As you say – All users of these substances are certainly criminals! Not perhaps recreational users, or individuals with a deeper underlying health issue. God says or – at least whispered in my ear “They are bad” – and bad is bad, so throw away the key – Americana morality is such pleasure to watch – it oozes that slimy warmth – “Studid is as stupid is”

Posted by marc | Report as abusive

what cannot be prevented, may as well be made legal and regulated to maintain order and safety, Giving control of the cannabis market to criminals sounds like a great idea. Way to go..

…………………………………………………………………………………..

economist and conservative icon Milton Friedman, who before his death told Forbes, “There is no logical basis for the prohibition of marijuana.” And: “It’s absolutely disgraceful to think of picking up a 22-year-old for smoking pot. More disgraceful is the denial of marijuana for medical purposes.”

If you support prohibition you support drug dealers.

Posted by clare | Report as abusive

The sad thing is that this notion only gets credibility when the government needs money, not when somebody realizes it is actually the right thing to do. If we did this, it would only be so that the government could have more of its drug of choice… your money. It won’t be long before it needs to increase the dose again.

Real integrity would be to legalize because it should be legal. If your politicians do it any other way, you can be assured that they didn’t do it for you. All the potheads would probably think so, though, and happily puff on down the street to the polls, waiting to cast an adoring vote.

Posted by Russ Ward | Report as abusive

So what if legalizing pot increases use? I’d rather deal with pot-smokers than drunks any day. I dare Congress to use Progress so boldly.

Posted by Adrien | Report as abusive

Now James is putting some thought into solutions rather than the “let them fail arguments”. Kudos.

Legalization is something that is supported by large groups of law enforcement and many governors of border states. No aspect of the War on Drugs is working. Not to mention, it is easier as a teenager to buy illegal drugs- than alcohol. How about the pills in the cabinet at home? Legalization won’t be easy, but it will help solve related problems.

It’s a shame making intelligent moves such as this are being held up for only political reasons. This makes me question Dems/Repubs value-add even further. Third party anyone? But that is a discussion for another day.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive

Mexico and Columbia have been playing along the last decade but the cartels are coming back strong in both places. The economic crisis will deplete US funding and deprive the governments of the vast resources required to fight these wars. So not only is the Drug War costing us domestically, both states have broken and in danger of failing again. This will lead to more immigrants, more supply, lower prices, more demand… the cycle never ends.

The Drug War creates taxing side-effects in almost every corner of our society, from health care, to education, to real estate value, to general quality of life. Lifting the prohibition would send all the rats into hiding, and would be the best thing we can do to get out of this economic sinkhole.

Posted by sam | Report as abusive

i totally agree the amount of revenue in tax dollars would be incredible !

Posted by b | Report as abusive

This is a suggestion that’s been around for years, and I’m all for it. Read the Nurses’ comment above and that’s the whole story. But the US isn’t mature or intelligent enough to do any of it. On the same subject, the person who contributed the idea about sex workers has also the right idea. If we can grow up enough to accept the fact that these issues will be around forever, make them pay.

Posted by Andrew Franks | Report as abusive

The giants of the global economy have been hobbled and wobbled so perhaps a puff may alleviate some of their pain but taxing marijuana will not help a thing.

Obama’s fluffy speech did not help either as real problems require real solutions.

Sometimes it is difficult for people to make tough decisions but past Presidents have made them. Kennedy ordered the naval blockade of Cuba to end the missile crisis and it was a tough decision as war was the other possible outcome.

Right now there is a global financial crisis that requires clear mind tough decision making. Making tough decisions is not what is happening, instead all manner of fluffy thinking is taking place with the single objective of saving shareholders by propping up the banking industry and others (AIG and motor companies).

I trust you will get your mind back to the serious issues James as the Dow is down 50% from its high and heading towards 6600 or less. Marijuana tax wont save this.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

The answer should be obvious, Legalize. The war on drugs was a fail. It’s ridiculous to imply “fear of the unknown” into this debate as a counter argument. That’s just another reminder of the reefer madness. Cause fear and people will follow, right? “what if’s” you can not measure should not be a debatable objective. We can measure the failure of the drug war in $, we can measure the amount of $ that will benefit us by legalization.

Posted by Bliss | Report as abusive

The drug problem will never be eradicated just contained, we should also legalize prostitution and clean it up and tax it. Religion will step in the way of course. Plus all the vested interests in the private prison business and black ops that are feeding off the system will have their input.

Posted by matt | Report as abusive

Legalize it, tax it, regulate it, and subsidize it……..
The new jobs created, corporate farms, retail outlets (cannabis-r-us…sorry, couldn’t resist), FDA inspectors( I want that job, “yup, thats some bad ass weed”) and bureaucrats to write the laws.
End the forty-year war and put the money to a better use.

Posted by mark | Report as abusive

A parallel suggestion. At present a very high percentage of ‘speeding’ and other traffic tickets are intended as ‘revenue-enhancers’ but masquerade as safety measures and the revenue is split with the insurance companies who pocket a large part of the revenue as rate increases. Why not change the point system so that only serious safety issues result in a threat to license and/or insurance rate increases and at the same time increase the fines. Everyone issued a ticket for 10 mph over the limit knows the present system is a cynical exercise anyway, and wouldn’t be thrilled but probably be satisfied if they could pay more for a nuisance ticket which was treated like a parking ticket and didn’t raise their rates. The only obstacle I can see to such an approach is the insurance industry lobbyists–and that, I grant, is a non-trivial obstacle–but perhaps greed and the need for increased revenue by states and municipalities might trump it.

Posted by Not Silent Not Bob | Report as abusive

Legalization of marijuana(or any narcotic)= menticide. Menticide is just another oppression mechanism. We messed up big time when we legalized alcohol. Clearly quick gains and greed wins out. ALL drug trade stops if we’d be willing to assault the money transaction side of things first. Reminds me of the Chinese opium war days. Will we ever learn? And if we wanna fix the US economy…..how about bankruptcy reorganization for a start…then rebuild our infrastructure and industrial production base.This monetary system is DEAD. Try repaying a 1.5 quadrillion derivatives debt…and you’ll see what I mean.

Posted by JC | Report as abusive

This is to Ian Kemmish –
The hole in the logic that you seek is demand. In order for the traffickers to profit they must be able to sell the drugs. Heroin addicts are generally partial to their drug just like cocaine addicts (and so forth). Many will not replace one with the other, especially if there is less risk involved with staying with your preferred drug. This is unlike many material objects in the fact that you will not sway someone to a completely different product just by incorporating some features of an already popular product (ie mixing the 2 for a speedball). You may move some of the market share but the majority will stay partial to the experience they already enjoy. And that is going way beyond what California is debating. They are debating marijuana which has much different affects than the so labeled “hard” drugs. Many marijuana users do not and will not do anything harder. I myself smoke marijuana but do not drink alcohol because I do not enjoy its affects on my body. I understand the risks, dangers and damages from both and have made my decision to smoke marijuana instead of drink or use harder drugs and no piece of legislature will change that for me. I hope I have helped you.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

I believe passing this bill will definitely put the economy back on track.
Attn: David… you’re just crazy.
I don’t believe an earth grown plant could do so much harm to one that we’d have to throw him in jail for 5 years. that’s just nonsense.
I agree with QueZen…I don’t know not even 1 person out there in the world who has been hospitalized, died (overdose), or even came close with the use of MJ.
This is my 2 cents, put that in your grinder and roll it! (then of course smoke a nice fatty)!
Go Cali!!! Legalization Now!!

Posted by Jill | Report as abusive

There are many good points here.
Here are some stats: in 2005 there were 2.2M in prison at an annual cost of 30B
http://www.iop.pitt.edu/documents/fact%2 0sheets/Prison%20Fact%20Sheet%20LO%20RES .pdf
Each state will be different but this will give you a national average. With the majority of these prisoners being convicted of drug crimes of one nature or another one could save huge amounts while ensuring that truly violent criminals remain in prison.

First, I think the 64B MJ market is very low. I have see estimates for MJ as high as 70% of the entire drug black market. Right now MJ is the largest cash crop in California, Kentucky and Tennessee and is grown in each and every state of the union as a cash crop and not one dime is taxed. In addition we are dumping billions out of this country every single year when this money could be kept here if MJ was a legal crop.

As for savings in interdiction, I see reutilization of personal for investigation of real crime like murder, theft and rape. I see the states saving by not having to build more prisons. I see badly needed new jobs in brand new industry and a new tax base.

Even though other societies have legalized cocaine and opium without a social collapse I advocate we first start with MJ. Work out the issues then move on to opium and cocaine. This will cut deeply into the funding of criminals and terrorists. MJ can fall under the same constraints as tobacco and alcohol but cocaine and opium will most likely be dispensed from clinics given the OD possibility. Well, that never stopped alcohol so who knows.

If you want to make sure the White House hears this message you need to go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
And let them know!

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

I agree with some of the comments above. It’s time to legalize Marijuana and prostitution. Marijuana because it’s far less dangerous than alcohol. Prostitution, because it should be allowed and taxed, when between two consenting adults. The tax revenue and cost savings would be in the billions. Hopefully, now that Obama is in office based on a younger, more open-minded voter base, these changes can happen. Counter that to the Republican, typically older, more inflexible voter base that has constrained realistic change that makes sense for the country.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

About time!
Go to the liquor store and pick up a doubie.
Of course usage will go up.
I do not buy off the streets.
Consequently, I do not buy – period.
If – it were legal – yes – I would buy!
Would I “abuse” it?
Heck no!
I drink – maybe consumming two bottles of wine per/yr.
Patterns of getting “stoned” would not differ.
I have been a proponent of legalization for years in terms of financial benefits for our country. Taking the demand from the grip of the drug lord – wow – how that could change things.
And here is the second pitch -
F L A T T A X
EVERYONE pays a base amount of tax – no deducts/incentive.
Legalization and flat tax could solve all our budget problems.

Posted by Eloise | Report as abusive

I think you really messed up on this one James, though usually your columns are very good.

The big problem with legalizing drugs is that drugs are the cause of many other crimes. The druggy that can’t afford his fix, burglarizes, home invades, armed robs, and kills to supply his need. You might say that pot is harmless. I have heard inklings that it might be much more toxic than cigarettes in causing cancer and other diseases and respiratory problems. There are also studies where lesser drugs lead to use of greater drugs.

Drugs are not alcohol. Alcohol is bad enough with all of the accompanying social problems, but legalization of drugs will be much worse. Our country is already almost too dangerous to live in, yeah why not step it up a notch. Good thinking James! God help save us from these kind of ignorant short-sighted solutions. Ask a cop what he thinks about this!

Posted by Stephen R. Bock | Report as abusive

If legalization causes cannabis use to go up at the expense of the competition, there should be significant savings on alcohol related catastrophic losses, including economic ones.
Like so many people are saying, and no one is really denying, alcohol is way more dangerous and deadly than cannabis. What kind of joke is this, to ban the safer substance and not only allow but heavily promote the clearly, clearly more dangerous substance? As they say, the emperor is, umm, not wearing any clothes. Talking about emperor alcohol lording it over cannabis, wearing bogus robes of justice that melt away in the sunlight. No more third class citizens!

Posted by newageblues | Report as abusive

Great article! The war on drugs was lost long before it even began… But it does provide a lot of people with jobs and assures organized crime a huge source of revenue. While we are at it leave Afghanistan and stop spending huge amounts of money protecting the opium trade! The Taliban were our buddies until they banned opium farming… then all the sudden they were enemies harboring terrorists! Now opium production in the country is at an all time high. Coincidence? I think not…

But, since the CIA has historically controlled the drug trade globally, and was set up initially to finance Wall Street with drug money, the chance of any of this legalization happening is very remote indeed…

Even so, just hearing mainstream media talk about the idea of legalization is a good start!

Posted by Donovan | Report as abusive

@greg
Here is where you and I will just have to disagree, I believe that the legalization of marijuana will help the money problem in this country significantly. Our prison systems are terribly over crowded, with the highest percentage of people on this earth locked away in the prison system, and the majority of those locked away for nothing more than victimless crimes such as marijuana use, the billions of dollars that we could be saving in tax payer money just on releasing those people would save us a a significant amount.
Also our police force is fighting a losing battle against the free market, because demand determines supply not the other way around. Our war on drugs is just another way for the government to tax us. unfourtunatly some people wont pull their heads out of there behinds for long enough for any of these “real” problems to be addressed and instead continue to focus on “fluff”

Posted by Jesse meredith | Report as abusive

“The waste and misery involved [in drug prohibition] must make it rival the sub-prime bubble as a misallocation of resources”. That’a nice way of putting it and looking at it.

Posted by newageblues | Report as abusive

As a long time nurse who has seen the misery of drug abuse I find the drug legalization arguments to be specious. How about legalizing every known harmful substance and then promote their use, taxing the product so that we have new sources of federal and state funding?
The light headed argument of legalizing known addictive agents glosses over that the user(s)must have income to support their habit, are gainfully employed and paying their taxes. Is anyone paying attention to the countless stories of lives ruined by addictive substance abuse? Where are the anti-smokers who rail against public tobacco use but do not bother to think that the same noxious gases and cancer risks are also associated with marijuana/hashish use? What about the neurochemical damage/memory loss associated with most known outlawed opiates and halluciogenics? If you thought that irresponsible behavior was a growing phenomenon in America now just wait for the decadent world of socially condoned alcohol and addictive drug use.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

Legalization would do something else not mentioned. It would force proper labeling so that so many people wouldn’t die as a result of their uninformed decisions to use said drugs.
I used to be a heroin addict and spent a great deal of time breathing into the mouths and thumping chests of people who over dosed on a completely unlabeled substance. Most of my then “comrades” would simply let them die or toss their corpses into dumpsters out of fear of prosecution for “manslaughter” simply because they were there when the dead person took to much. It’s OK to let them die? I quit using thanks to treatment and anyone else can to if they want. Treatment could be EASILY funded for EVERYONE who wanted it.

Posted by MRAmell | Report as abusive

Another thing legalization could accomplish is standardization. many addicts die because one day they get one dose, the next day what looks exactly the same will be ten times more potent and the next day it’s back to stepped on garbage and so on. That’s the main reason heroin addicts are completely unable to stop using when it’s street level heroin. The quality or purity is NEVER the same from day to day.

Posted by MRAmell | Report as abusive

Ironically, I think it would be safer to medicalize heroin and cocaine first. You don’t want a situation in which marijuana becomes legal and minors start using heroin or cocaine because it is easier to obtain than the legalized marijuana and alcohol. Often minors use marijuana because it is easier to obtain than legalized alcohol.

Marijuana will likely come first anyway, but some method must be found to guard against this negative potential side-effect.

Posted by Winchester73 | Report as abusive

I have thought for a long time that saving money on drug enforcement and making money on collection of tax revenue on sales of the drugs would be a very effective way to shore up finances for our government. We don’t have to allow all drugs. Just grant exclusive rights to produce pot to tobacco companies. They have infrastructure, means, and land to make it into a successfull business. It will also reduce other crime associated with pot selling…. I know that in the past Goerge Schultz advocated legalization of drugs but it never got tracktion in neither party…

Posted by Anna | Report as abusive

FACT: Peanut butter has caused more deaths in 2009 than marijuana use.

Studies have shown marijuana smoke does not cause cancer, however it can cause respiratory complications, so can dust, so does every single smoke stack in the entire world.

FOR OR AGAINST decriminalization contact your elected officials. Tell them you demand the decriminalization of marijuana. Talking about it does nothing. People make change not politicians.

To Dave, you seem like a very informed intelligent individual, please share your opinions with anyone that will listen.

Posted by gerald | Report as abusive

Aren’t you the guy who said that bank nationalization was a 100% sure thing? Are you being paid to write this garbage? Please do us a favor, find another profession. I heard Walmart is hiring greeters.

Posted by Jockey | Report as abusive

If marijuana use is to be legalized in California, where will the marijuana come from? Mexico? Is it legal to grow marijuana in Mexico? Where will the supply come from? Who will be allowed to grow it to supply legally those who wish to use it? Who will purchase it, since it will continue to be a controlled substance (like tobacco) if the supply in California is unable to meet the demand? Will there be any quality control? Who is going to control the quality?
What do you think will happen socially? Everybody will come to California to get stoned out in the open (not a big difference from today but…) there will be massive drug tourism since everywhere else it’s forbidden.
Will smoking a joint in the street be allowed? Will it be permitted only in coffee houses, like the Netherlands, or at home? Will the non-users be happy with the fact that it’s legal?

Will there be a statewide referendum asking voters directly if they wish to de-criminalize marijuana, and if yes, what would be the conditions to impose? California really needs to tap into the direct response of californians regarding this issue.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

If drug use can’t be stopped in the highly controlled enviroment of the Prison System, is reasonable to assume it can be accomplished in the public arena? In these trying times, maybe we need to step back, take a breath and reprioritize our law enforcement goals. Bernie Maddoff has hurt far more people than some guy in his house smoking a joint I suspect.

Posted by Burnerjack | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. Saft:

Let me express my disappointment that you minimize your arguments by saying that you are partially-joking.

I am a physician working in a prison (which is why I am posting this anonymously).

To begin with, there is no evidence that criminalization of drug use has had any significant impact on abuse. Furthermore, most of what people fear from the legalization of stigmatized recreational drug use is the product of the misguided and ineffectual “War on Drugs.” On top of that, “War” is more than a figure of speech, with suspension of civil liberties, paramilitary units in our cities, and covert operations in other nations that range from shameful to heinous. It should also be noted that gangs and organized crime depend upon the illegal status of these drugs.

While it is widely acknowledged that Prohibition allowed a petty prostitution and numbers racket to become the once fearsome Mafia (which took another 50 years, after the end of prohibition, to control), few people have the courage to point out the cause-and-effect relationship between the contemporary prohibition and gangs (To your credit, you are one of the few to point out that the “War on Drugs” is incompatible with the “War on Terror.”). In my home state, alone (not known as a gang hotbed), there are more than 300 separate gangs. Whatever their side-issues, most, if not all, are about controlling profits from the illegal drug trade. Without the “War on Drugs,” they would be little more than Boy Scouts with tattoos.

Tobacco is the most addictive drug known, and its health costs far exceed those of illicit drugs. Not only is tobacco legal, but it is subsidized. Perversely, the United States government even imposes sanctions upon nations that try to keep “our” drug crop out, sanctioning those nations that it deems not to do enough to keep up the prices and profits for terrorists and other criminals.

Drug abuse should be a medical problem, not a legal one. Get government out of it.

Posted by Dr. Who? | Report as abusive

Ditto to what Dr. Who said and Amen

How is this beneficial when Americans are sitting around stoned all day? The economy is going to recover eventually but once marijuana is legal, there’s no going back. Sometime you have to look towards the future, how will this affect not only us adults but our kids. What’s next cocaine? Is money that important? Just remember why we need money in the first place. Hopefully not raising drug addicted children. partially joking.

Posted by Ann | Report as abusive

It might be sensible, as well, to lower the legal drinking age to 18. I am strongly in favor of fierce non-drunk driving laws but the two should never have been tied together. Lower the drinking age to 18, but strictly enforce tough anti-drunk-driving statutes.

Posted by Not Silent Not Bob Not Jay | Report as abusive

[...] The U.N. estimates the value of the U.S. cannabis market at $64 billion annually, while a paper by academics Jonathan Caulkins and Peter Renter calculates that about half of the costs of drugs are in one way or another attributable by factors linked to interdiction and its perils (click here to read Render’s paper in pdf format)….[More] [...]

Every once in a while, Mr. Saft comes up with an intelligent idea….. This is that once in a while….

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive

The Government know why it’s a legal and they want to keep it that way off of Racism,Fear,Protection of Corporate Profits, Yellow Journalism,Ignorant,Incompetent, and/or Corrupt Legislators, Personal Career Advancement and Greed. http://blogs.salon.com/0002762/stories/2 003/12/22/whyIsMarijuanaIllegal.html
Legalizing marijuana would be great, to all the ones don’t agree DON’T DO IT is a choice their not saying once they legalize it everyone has to do it. Studies and proof among people who do smoke marijuana has no effects like alcohol and tobacco. If the government was so worry about the American People they wouldn’t even had alcohol and tobacco out in the first place it just to show you they are hiding the truth from us. With these cheesy bogus commercial about making you lazy, your a loser, and wont be successful in life are all lies. Many Presidents, Athletes, Entertainers, and successful people have done it or doing it still an haven’t fail it what there doing. Quit with the lies and all this stalling about “Are they going to legalize marijuana” an just do it all already. Have rules if anyone is caught more then there supposed to have fine them. If some people will like to grow in it in their own home make them pay for a permit permission to have two small planter pot, permits expires every 6 months make them pay every time if they don’t comply fine them next strike take away their permit. No smoking in public if so fine them, anyone trafficking product take them away and fine them. If no one pays there fine threat them like regular people with tickets pay for put them or in jail. With these fine the states can collected more money and the police have more time to look for harder crimes and still control the issue if someone is not following the law. STOP all this nonsense putting people to jail for a plant that doesn’t hurt, kill,effect, or get additive too

Posted by Brenetta Jones | Report as abusive

We may as well legalize drugs, this war cannot be won.

It’s not because we don’t want to, or we don’t have the resources to fight, but the very nature of the problem.

What we try to do is to fight a distributed system with a top-down system. A distributed system, e.g. trafficker, is much more flexible, highly adaptable. A top-down system, e.g. low enforcement, it’s more rigid has a very low rate of change.

Having said that, why we want to go to a battle that cannot be won?

Posted by andrei | Report as abusive

Dear Steve I don’t know where you are getting your information from as a long time nurse. Cannabis does not give you cancer like tobacco. Cannabis is not addictive like any other harder drug like cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or prescription pills that your doctor might had scribe to his/her patients. Cannabis is the most safest drug that is out there with no harsh side effects. Tobacco is nothing like cannabis there’s no way you can compare it cause it wouldn’t even get to that level. If people can teach their child from right from wrong then why worry about the choices they make. If they know how to follow the rules from there parents have gave them then everything should be fine. But, it wont cause their going to make their own choices in life cause that’s their life if they do smoke cannabis the parent wouldn’t have to worry about their getting cancer or to going to rehab for being addictive. Parents teach their children to stay in school an go to college. If the child deiced not to go are you going to blame to government your child didn’t go to college cause she/he had chosen not too. Life is about choices I don’t smoke cigarettes cause its a proven fact to link to cancer. I don’t drink alcohol proven fact again to link to liver disease. I had smoke cannabis all during my high school years never drop out have a diploma, working on my Bachelor Degree in Business. My parents had taught me right from wrong an when it was time for me to live my life I had choose to not do them things. The government is going to tell you stuff just to feed you make you full until you vomit. GET IT ! GOT IT! GOOD!!!!

Posted by BJones | Report as abusive

Can you imagine what the country would be like were government to try to mandate that people stay away from anything that could cause them serious harm? An incomplete list: Automobiles, gas stoves, fire, water, knives, guns, various cleaners, insecticides, jet planes, tall buildings, the carcinogenic sunlight. And of course alcohol and tobacco.

What of the “countless stories of lives ruined by addictive substance abuse”. It seems all we get to hear when it comes to drugs are THOSE stories. Why not the ones that don’t end in trauma and tragedy? Owing to the fear of ‘sending the wrong drug message’ combined with the fact that trauma and tragedy make more gripping sensationalist news copy, we end up not ever hearing them, unless we’re part of that culture outselves, and then we get the truth.

When someone “loses everything” to drugs, how often are they fired from jobs because of a urine sample? How often do they lose their families because the wife fears the consequences to her children and to her own reputation if she stands behind an outlaw spouse? How many of the “memory loss” patients are senior citizens who were hippies? If they didn’t do drugs, they lose their memory because of aging; if they did, the DRUGS caused it.

I don’t agree with the “tax it” part. And sell those SWAT APCs and machine guns for scrap.

Posted by travman67 | Report as abusive

Bravo: with all of the propaganda against “drugs” – from government, police agencies & law enforcement lobbyists, who have their own agenda in maintaining the status quo, and the pharmaceutical lobby’s – only the illegal ones, the legal ones have the commercial airwaves saturated with their propaganda & have everything to cure all our most minor aches & pains: like the elixir’s of old, legalized snake oil sales-men.

God forbid someone should take it upon himself to find his own natural, medication.

The hypocrisy in this society is unbearable most of the time.

One thing you left out: the plan you propose would also cut out the Drug Cartels, or at least minimize their control.

A recent PBS documentary on Independent Lens, called “Tulia, TX” highlights & underlines some of your points.

This country needs to change its attitude about marijuana & the booming U.S. hemp industry, destroyed & criminalized by the government & “legal” drug companies in 1937.

Hopefully, people with common sense & new ideas will emerge from this crisis & take this bull by the horns – but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Posted by Steve Rousseau | Report as abusive

For those clueless parents out there who are concerned that legalizing marijuana will create a “stoned” nation of under achievers. Right this very minute it is easier for your child to get fifty bucks worth of pot than it is to get a pack of cigarettes or a can of spray paint for that matter. The drug war is an absurd waste of tax dollars. Especially when we find it perfectly acceptable to dope ourselves up with Rx drugs at the drop of a hat because the commercials say it’s ok.

Posted by B | Report as abusive

If we legalize drugs, we could stop building the fence along our border and turn all the acres into a wildlife preserve. Maybe we could also turn a profit by growing the hemp plant for commercial use.

Glad to see someone is actually voicing this opinion. I’m old enough to be classed as part of the “hippie” generation, so I’ve watched the War on Drugs unfold. It has not stemmed the use of drugs, but it has been very profitable for certain groups in our society. I agree with the doctor who posted the comment saying drugs should be a medical problem, not a legal one.

Posted by js | Report as abusive

Excellent article!! I have but one thing to say – I don’t know about legalizing ALL drugs but as for marijuana, how many times have you ever heard about someone involved in a deadly (or otherwise) smoking and driving accident???? I’m not talking about marijuana combined with any other drug, or marijuana combined with drinking. How many people committ violent crimes – or ANY crimes – under the influence of marijuana alone??? And don’t use the ‘psycho-babble’ that it’s a ‘gateway’ drug. I can tell you about people – but I won’t tell you who or how many people I could use as an example – who have smoked pot for a long time and have NEVER gone onto harder drugs. I think way too much money is spent on prosecuting the petty crime of marijuana; if pot was legalized, regulated and taxed the same way alcohol supposedly is, we could better afford to prosecute serious crimes. And, yes, that includes dangerous drunk drivers who kill.

What a pleasant surprise to hear about this Cali initiative. It’s so foolish that marijuana is illegal.

Posted by Victor Purinton | Report as abusive

Read a long time back that it would be cheaper to put heroin addicts in the Waldorf and give them free room service and free heroin for life then to continue the War on (some) Drugs. With the direction the war on (some) drugs has taken since I first read that, I bet we could now buy each and every druggie a new Bentley to boot and still save money/crime/death over the (religion based, not science based) War on (some) drugs.

Posted by Lee | Report as abusive

You should look at it like this, There are so many people already in this state using marijuana “Illegally” and they will continue to use it whether or not it’s “illegal” but why it’s “illegal” it facilitates other types of criminal behavior, like drug dealers which are usually involved in other criminal activities, and it supports other aspects of the criminal world. Further this entire combined crime buts financial burden on the police and prison system. It’s like this if I were a Marijuana user I would much rather purchase the product from a legal government controlled source as oppose to a shady dirt bag drug dealer. And if the government took over the sale of marijuana, all the “illegal” persons involved with its current distribution and criminal enterprises would disappear. Further marijuana is no worse than drinking alcohol for your health; also marijuana can be taken as a pill or even drunken like a tea. In which case the negative medical implications are minimal. I think that if it is decided to make it legal threw state controlled sources it should carry the same penalties if misused as alcohol such as DUI’s or drunk in public. This could make jobs for good people and take them from bad people “Drug dealers”.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Don’t even partially joke Mr Saft – just get on and do it – legalise and regulate all drug use – the current set up is a waste of money and lives – the state should not protect individuals from themselves – but as it currently stands the state’s policy is counter productive, hugely expensive and wrecks far more lives than the abuse of drugs alone would do. If one good thing comes out of this economic crisis it will be the downfall of such nanny-state legislation. Freedom includes the freedom to make mistakes.

You can not regulate something that is illegal. By making Marijuana illegal, all that does is push it underground. I does not slow the flow of the drug. All it does is put money into the hands of criminals and organized crime. Though, some would say, legalizing would still put money into the hands of criminals and organized crime(our government), at least some of that money would make it into the federal coffers.

FREE THE WEED!!!!

Posted by TX-Sunset | Report as abusive

why wait for legalization, everyone is breaking the law now with impunity in finance. Apparently there is no law in this jungle and when their is no law then you’re a dope if you’re not stealing or breaking the ‘recommendations’ that are not followed by anyone else.

So legalize it, who gives a ship anyway?

If you can rob billions and get a civil fine, then why fill the jails with crackheads, we have plenty of them running the wall street firms.

Empty the jails and sell guns out of vending machines, let drunk drivers run down children and legalize rape why your at it.

Jimmy, I love you bro but pull your head out of your a55.

You want economic recovery, throw a bunch of criminal bankers (THOUSANDS) in Jail and make an example out of them, then TAX THE PI55 out of the INTERNET.

I’d rather see that than my 5 year old daughter growing up with a crack-pipe.

stop being a bunch of dummies.

I have wondered for a long time if weed, if not all currently “illegal”drugs should be legalized and their recreational use taxed up the kazoo. There would probably still be a black market if the taxes were too high, but it also might help those who really are serious about getting clean by removing some of the obstacles to seeking treatment. How do other countries handle this problem?

Posted by susan nichols | Report as abusive

I agree that marijuana be treated the same as alcohol, legalize it, standardize it, and tax it. Our current Prohibition of marijuana is about as useful as our failed attempt to outlaw alcohol usage many years ago. There is the first law of holes to consider, “when you find yourself in a hole, STOP DIGGING”

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

Most of the posters here on on the side of common sense.
Not James Reginald Harris, Jr.
He is comparing marijuana usage to other crimes, saying if you make one legal, you might as well make others legal, like rape and murder? One thing, those crimes actually infringe on other people’s rights, you idiot! That’s just retarded and an old sad propaganda argument. Need I remind you Harris that the law is not always right. American history shows us this, alcohol prohibition, shows us this! Slavery shows this, we’ve never been a truly free nation, and you are a blind ignorant person if you believe otherwise.
As for your daughter smoking crack, that’s just bad parenting on YOUR part. But I guess you’d rather have government raise your daughter. From your irresponsible and uninformed comment, that could be true in your case. Would you smoke crack if it were legal? No? Then you can probably assume the same for your daughter. Educate, regulate, win. Further more, I’m a user, and I have not used any other illicit drug to date, and I also don’t drink alcohol anymore thanks to my new, more responsible friend marijuana, whose illegality is my and my peers concerns. No one dies from marijuana, 10′s of thousands die from alcohol EVERY YEAR (75,000+), and 100′s of thousands (400,000+) from cig’s. But pot has killed no one, unless you include 2 documented cases due to ALLERGIES, in which case every food group should be made illegal. My cousin could die from beans for example. You can’t overdose on pot, it’s the safest ‘drug’ known to man now and thousands of years ago.

Posted by Clayton R. | Report as abusive

It would just make to much sense to legalize marijuana.

Posted by Deborah | Report as abusive

Susan Nichols,

You are correct that if you apply to heavy a tax all you do is maintain a black market. Like when Canada decided to dramatically increase the tax on cigarettes thinking it would curb use. What a surprise they got. The Native American businessmen loaded up semi’s of cigarettes and crossed the boarder. There was nothing illegal about it since the treaties give them permission to do so and they made and are still making a killing on selling cigarettes in Canada. Today the US still sees a small black market in cigarettes coming up from Mexico and is fueled by the taxes the US government and states put on the cigarettes. However, even with a small black market the huge profits the current producers and dealers get will be gone. White market enterprises will arise and fuel the economy with jobs and taxes.

For the other drugs like Cocaine and Opium products, the only society I know who has attempted any thing in this area is the Netherlands. They legalized Heroin and sold and dispensed it from clinics with nurses to administer the quality controlled pharmaceutical grade substance. What was once a $100 a day habit became a $5.00 a day habit and the addicts have been ageing out ever since the program began which means they are not seeing an increase in new addicts. The addicts also could return to being productive citizens.

As for Cocaine, I do not know. All I do know is that is has been legal in plant form in South America for ever. As a natural plant it is used as a hunger suppressant and a stimulant similar to coffee. The powder form has been illegal for some time with little cooperation from law enforcement. I think this could be handled similar to the opium with clinics dispensing amounts that are under a lethal amount. Hey, that is better control than what we have on alcohol today so, it should work.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

This is great idea that will never happen but I have even better idea that will never happen. Tax profits on ALL religious groups. Let’s face it, they’re not “non-profit” And if some of them actually are non-profit, they don’t have to worry since only their profits will be taxed just as all business. But again, religious groups have too much influence in government for this to happen.

Posted by Brian Choi | Report as abusive

Beyond the benefits of the tax revenue, would be an inmense savings in law enforcement costs, corruption, and crime, all of which add to those budget deficits. To date enforcement of drug laws only serves to maintain the street price and produce organized crime. Prohibition had all the same negative effects on our society as illegalizing drugs has had, increased crime, better financed and powerful drug organizations, kickbacks which corrupt law enforcement, lawyers, and government officials, etc.. Personally, I think the only reason drugs are illegal is because the sale of illegal drugs moves so much money and benefits so many people. Legislation must also be passed making the drug user responsible for his own medical care however, a case of more personal freedom meaning more personal responsibility. It is time the society learned from the Prohibition experience and from the “free ride” experience that neither work. Free medical care will destroy the economy; it must be made affordable just like education, but never free.

Posted by Helen | Report as abusive

Should we also legalize prostitution? Why not provide health benefits and collect tax?

Posted by Brian Choi | Report as abusive

Yes Brian Choi – of course we should legalise prostitution – not a free for all – and in a way that protects the vulnerable from slave-like exploitation – but one that recognises that some people want to offer this service and a lot want to use it and that, so long as it is a transaction between freely consenting adults, the state should not intervene on spurious “moral” grounds.

One of the big hurdles to legalization of marijuana is the current entrenched “legal” medical drug industry. I would wager even the plethora of non-medical uses for hemp would cause resistance from certain industries. These being papers, fuel sources, and any current fibers in use on the market that hemp is superior to. Why would companies want to allow an unpatented plant that has so many medical and commercial applications come to use, when synthetic drugs are so much easier to control and patent. Marijuana is less harmful to your health by a long shot then cigarettes and alcohol so the current ban on marijuana is just hypocrisy being kept in place with false science and weak arguments. Unless alcohol and cigarettes join the ban, it will continue to be an example of the racist, classist, and monopolistic policies that pervade the world.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

Want to stop the DRUG WAR in Mexico, legalize marijuana here. We better do something quick or Mexico will be our next Afghanistan.

Posted by Lucy | Report as abusive

Marijuana will never be legalized. The authorities are making too much money keeping it illegal, seizures of cash, vehicles, airplanes,and homes is a very lucrative
business. The illegal part of this whole fiasco is keeping adults from ingesting anything they desire into their systems. It should be strictly a personal matter, but our insanity has changed this.

@Jesse Meredith

Your argument merits consideration and you are probably right about the enormous costs of the anti-drug war. My point was that James normally provides us with useful analyses of central problems which right now happens to be the global meltdown of the financial sector. Moving the terrain of debate to very important peripheral issues such as drug policy takes the spotlight away from core economic dynamics.

I apologise for saying this, can you imagine business and governments getting together at a global convention to discuss the merits of legalising marijuana to solve the problems in the financial markets? That would be insane, wouldn’t it?

As a matter of interest to you, I wrote to the UK Treasury on March 23rd 2008 to offer a remedy to assist in alleviating the credit crunch that was developing in intensity at that point. The best solution that the Bank of England could come up with just prior to the 23rd March was to offer emergency 3 day loans.

As it turns out, the HM Treasury did not acknowldge my email and instead on April 21st 2008, Mr King, the Governor of the Bank of England “unveiled” the Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS) and claimed that he worked it out on his “home computer” “around Easter”

You can read about this by typing my name, Gregory Hessenauer into google search.

What this brought home to me was that the world is not only suffering from a financial meltdown but is also enduring the rule of an amoral and unethical ruling elite.

Based on this, it is hypocrisy of the ruling elite to set the moral compass of human behaviour if they can’t and don’t behave in an ethical manner. This would support the basis for allowing people to make their own moral and health decisions instead of spending billions of dollars trying to control the behaviour of “the masses”.

Having said all this, it remains my view that alcohol, tobacco and drugs pose a risk to human health and in my view it is preferable that if these these items are used the user should be made aware of the risks that they incur by doing so.

I remain convinced that legalising drug use will not in any way address the global financial crisis and ought to be viewed as an entirely seperate issue.

Wish you the very best.

Posted by Gregory Hessenauer | Report as abusive

I agree our current drug policy is a costly disaster which hurts more innocent people than a regulate-and-tax policy would. While we cannot stop individuals from choosing to harm themselves, we have the right and the government has the responsibility to protect our society from those who make bad decisions. Random drug testing must be allowed. No individual has the right to endanger others on the road or to expect an employer to pay for shoddy work due to incapacity.

Posted by bella mag | Report as abusive

Wasn’t it Andrew Jackson that drew the line for personal liberty at “That which does not pick my pocket or break my kneecaps”? I rather like that. If you break down drugs into a class which turns people into monsters and a class which does not, you have a much more rational basis for deciding whether things should be illegal. Marijuana does not turn people into monsters. Many people use it regularly and lead productive lives. Even George Washington used marijuana. Cocaine? Now that’s another matter.
People call it a “War” on drugs. That’s OK, but how many fronts are you fighting the war on? Marijuana, cocaine, LSD, heroin, ecstasy, the list goes on. How many times did you hear of a country winning a war it fought on 7 or more fronts? Limit the number of fronts and you have a better chance of winning on the fronts that are really worth fighting. Come to think of it, why do we consider research into recreational drugs to be taboo? This is the best way to win the war. Come up with something that can get people high with minimal side effects. Then you get unemployed drug lords, well employed Americans making legal drugs and a ton of junkies that change over to something that doesn’t turn them into monsters.

Posted by Shadowrider | Report as abusive

Legalizing drugs at this time could cause the total collapse of the worldwide financial system (or what’s left of it). Banks make huge profits through money laundering operations. Without this source of revenue, international banks would be crippled beyond the ability of governments to prop them up.

Consider the case of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC). Since the days of the British Empire, it has made huge sums of money processing opium into heroin, distributing it and laundering the proceeds. Now HSBC has announced an urgent need to raise new capital.

Legalize if you must, but at least wait until this financial crisis is over!

Posted by Critical Thinker | Report as abusive

The only thing more appalling than the ignorant comment made by Father Brown, was the fact that he put the title with his comment. First of all, if we examine this fallacious warped logic, then why stop at drugs, including cocaine. Why not just legalize and tax other illegal activity like prostitution, and human trafficking and child labor, as long as they are willing, and polygamy. You are on a slippery slope- why not just tax abortion and child pornography and theft.

Secondly, there is a plethura of research to show that people who use marijuana are much more likely to also experiment with other drugs, not to mention the fact that often marijuana is used together with alcohol. Aside from the fallacious logic and moral issues as long as you have a “tax and spend” socialist in the white house, you can raise taxes all you want, it doesn’t solve the problem, just creates more programs for the lazy, and goes to pork spending like the 50 million to research the marsh mouse. A drunk sorority girl with her dad’s platinum card doesn’t care about the tax on the booze. If you legalize marijuana, then everyone can grow it in their house, and there is no need to buy it at Wal-Mart or Revco, and so who would be paying taxes on it?? The best thing about the recession is that it makes the dollar stronger overseas, and lets people get a taste of the socialist they voted for and will help put conservatives back in power in two years.

L Ozanne. American in Socialist Europe

Posted by Loren Ozanne | Report as abusive

In Alaska Marijuana is legal to grow, use in any manner, and give away. It is not legal to sell it, and I doubt the Alaska State government would ever attempt to sell it to increase tax revenues, but of course they don’t need the extra money. One of the main reasons that pot should be decriminalized is because of the sad situation in Mexico. It will never happen though because of all the “upstanding” “moral” paranoids that control much of our society, and an overabundance of self serving gutless politicians who always worry about getting re-elected. The situation in Mexico is especially sad – a direct result of their wealthy northern neighbor. One solution is for voters to never vote in an incumbent.

Posted by John R | Report as abusive

Seriously, when are we as a society going to grow up and put our ideals into action. We way we believe in and value the freedom of the individual but then we make people criminals if they want to get high? I personally do not drink or use illegal drugs, but I believe that we as a society should allow people to do drugs if they want to as long as they do not let it effect society in a negative way. That is why we have DUI laws which also apply to drugs. The tax revenue would be great. The reduction in crime and violence would also be nice. Also, teenagers are attracted to the mystic of the forbiden. By making drugs legal, we take away the mystic of doing drugs and teens simply see that doing drugs will make them a looser rather than the cool kids in school.

Go ahead and legalize marijuana, if only to shut these fools up. The legalization of marijuana would accomplish none of the stated goals of the cannabis-crowd. “Crime rates” would appear to fall as drug usage would no longer be “crimes”; that is until the robbery, assult, child endangerment, and vehicular manslaughter shot through the roof (not to mention bankruptcy, divorce, death). The large number of illicit growers would explode and a bumper crop of untaxed marijuana would flood the streets without a trickle into the state coffers. Drugs would still come across the border as the now legal gateway drug created addicts of even greater numbers of people. The only consolation I would find as I watched my country turn into a macabre version of a Jude Apatow film and flush itself down the toilet would be: “maybe they will all be stoned next Election Day”.

Posted by The Last Sane Man in the Room | Report as abusive

Mr. Saft, I applaud you for having the guts to say what millions of people already think. The so-called drug war is nothing but a sham. Politicians ran out of platforms to run on years ago and they made up this big bad monster that needed to be fought. What was the cost of drug use in this country before the so-called drug war? hardly a miniscule fraction of what the “war” costs today. And the employment of thousands of enforcement, justice and corrections employees now makes it so difficult to back off. The person who earlier said that if marijuana were legalized everyone would grow it at home negating a retail market is wrong. Do most drinking Americans make wine in their bathtubs? A legal, controlled, and taxed market for recreational drugs would generate billions.

Posted by T. Kaye | Report as abusive

Why not go one step further and require all people who want to use marijuana to register and get a license? Another revenue-raiser for the late, great, state of California. Currently you have to prove your age eligibility to buy tobacco or alcohol, so why not have to show your license in order to buy marijuana? Then, use this requirement to fine people caught in possession of or using it without the requisite documentation!

Posted by Kathy Thompson | Report as abusive

Has anyone see the March, 2nd article here at Reuters titled “Cost of locking up Americans too high: Pew study?
How can we continue to do this? You have “Last Man” who thinks society will collapse others who think legalizing marijuana will lead to slavery and forced child labor. Who are you people? Without the high cost currently associated with illegal drugs who motivation will users have to rob and murder? The markets dissolve because there is no more profit there. The White Markets pick up marijuana and sell it in a manor similar to alcohol. Even Heroin has been decriminalized and dispensed through clinics successfully in other countries and huge social benefits were realized. As for prostitution it is already legal in Nevada and I do not see their society falling apart. Give your moral outrage a rest and try looking at these problems from the view point that we live in what is supposed to be a free society. Does prostitution or drugs violate any of your constitutional rights? Of course they don’t! Does human trafficking or forced child labor violate the rights of those being forced or trafficked? Of course it does! So, do not try and confuse the issue with these kinds of illogical arguments. This is supposed to be the Land of the Free. We are not suppose to be a society that jails 1 out of 31 adults giving the US the largest per capita prisoner population in the world and the fastest grown gang subculture in history. If you want to stop this and the gang problems south of the boarder legalize marijuana and decimalize cocaine. You want to break the back of Middle Eastern terrorists decimalize opium products and get off oil as a fuel base. Without profits they are nothing. This would go along way to eliminating crime world wide. But of course if you wish to stand by your moral outrage and have an over powering desire to needlessly control the lives of others please feel free to exercise your constitutional right to protest any action that might empower people to exercise their god given right of free will.

Remember there is always someone who desires to usurp your freedoms. Stand up, unite against them and Be Free!

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

I’m a smoker. And I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have started smoking if it was illegal just as I never did marijuana. Kids nowdays are already tempted into smoking and that’s when most of them start.
Just step back and think about what this means. We have broken economic system. Our current system requires endless market expansion and we’ve reached its limit. Instead of trying to fix the system, we’re trying to expand into drugs… This may be a temporary fix but what are we going to do if THAT market dries up? Gambling? Prostitution?

Posted by Brian Choi | Report as abusive

Mr. Choi,

Do you have a choice? Are you an alcoholic? If you do not want to smoke, stop. If you have trouble stopping, get help. However, there are millions of people in this country that still smoke and enjoy it. I smoke but only at night when I am reading. I smoke only natural organic tobacco but unlike many smokers I can go all day without it and I can even go days without. I still smoke because I enjoy it. If you are an addict please get help but do not blame the tobacco for making you an addict. It has no will. There is and always will be a difference between use and abuse and there will always be addicts. Like alcoholics you first must admit you are an addict and that you want to quit before the healing can begin. But just like alcoholics and alcohol there are many millions that use alcohol without ever becoming an alcoholic.

Good luck to you.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

1) Legalize & tax recreational drugs (Marijuana, cocaine, heroin)

2) Add at least marijuana and heroin to the medical armamentarium

3) Release/parole all imprisoned individuals who were convicted of non violent drug related crimes.

4) Eliminate the IRS, and all the attorneys and accountants associated with it, and all the enforcement crap, and move to a straighforward transaction tax at the level of financial intermediary organizations – which becomes a software modification of current programs, and frees up over 50 billion dollars a year while providing the money congress claims it requires.

Posted by nexien | Report as abusive

B.Free. You missed the point. I said the kids are temped into smoking. Kids are less responsible for decisions they make. I’m sure you think pure pressure is just a myth and conspiracy as well but majority of us parents do not. And by the way, I think you’re perfect rehab. Just walk up to any addict and tell them to “stop” I think it’s working miracles.

I have quit smoking for three years and started again just a few months ago partially thanks to this economy but for three years, I was constantly tempted. I asked someone who quit for 30 years if the temptation goes away. He told me it never goes away. I have a choice to start smoking as an adult but I wish I was never exposed to it when I was in school. And I certainly wish the same for my kids. Cigarette or marijuana.

And you’re also implying that if there are people who enjoy it, it should be available. Do you believe cocaine and heroin also should be legalized because there are people who enjoy it? You agree to child pornography if the child consent to it and actually enjoys it?

Posted by Brian Choi | Report as abusive

About thirty five years ago the editors of Consumer Reports published a remarkable study done by Edward Brecher called Licit and Illicit Drugs. This was an excellent survey and in depth study of the history of the use of a wide range of drugs and the rising attempts to regulate them. He observed that if one were a drug lord and were seeking to design a system that enriched himself to the maximum level possible, he could not do better than the system we now have in place. This observation is as true now as it was in the early 70′s. Demand for drugs is, to a large extent, driven by its forbidden nature. If drugs could be secured at a minimum cost from a dispensary, stocked by legal and regulated channels, the illegal drug cartels would wither. I assure you that the strongest opposition to legalization of any drugs will be from the current pushers and the gang bosses. Their unwitting front men in the debate will be, ironically, the most self-righteous among us, certain that they know best what is good for us and determined to throw us in jail if we disagree.

Posted by John Hawley | Report as abusive

BUY AMERICAN!

I totally agree with the legalization approach.

Let’s stop subsidizing the international drug lords by producing what America wants right here in America. No more will international terrorists and criminals profit from exporting drugs to America. Let’s see what happens to those drug lords in Mexico after their biggest market suddenly stops buying from them.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

This is an incredibly sane idea. What’s incredibly NOT sane is the status quo: there is a huge segment of government employees at all levels who are committed to stifling liberty by enforcing laws which appear very similar to Prohibition.

The results are:

1. The enforcers have a job
2. The banned products generate phenomenal profits for
those willing to risk peddling them
3. When “caught”, these people (or someone: taxpayers?)
pay an army of lawyers and others to prosecute
or defend them
4. The losers end up grist for the incarceration mill
5. After incarceration, the “losers” are often simply
better at their business, or better-trained in other
illegal activities. And probably more anti-social.

Overall, who benefits from the current set-up? Mostly the drug dealers and manufacturers who manage to remain uncaught while making incredible amounts of money, the government employees who pursue them, and still other government employees whose jobs are related to dealing with them when they are caught. And, to a small extent, the coffers of the venues that receive fines from those who are caught.

Now, who is harmed by the current mess? Virtually everyone not included in the above, which means a very large majority. This seems a good example of how our laws benefit a few while pretending to benefit the many.

I’m not a drug-interested person. I’m perfectly satisfied with the variety of alcoholic beverages available, so my support of legalization of marijuana is not motivated by the desire to lower the risk of using it! My motivation is: cut the lifeline of cash that supports this cancer of illegal drug traffic! Provide products that meet basic standards of purity and potency. License them, sell them with huge tax premiums (think– tobacco!!) and use the expanded tax base help reduce our deficit.

Oh, and some of the taxes could be used to fund some retraining for the newly out-of-work government employees and for psychological intervention and re-education for those drug dealers who might be interested.

Not that all of those people will be out of jobs, though: there are plenty of other drugs out there that can keep the anti-drug circus going. But the big part of the “show” seems to be marijuana. Let’s pull the plug on that NOW, and rake in some tax dollars!

Posted by ray barnum | Report as abusive

I am a grandmother of two Mexican boys. Their dad is Mexican and the boys also hold Canadian citizenship.

Now with all this U.S. policy against drugs causing huge violence and civic turmoil for Mexico and U.S. with no end in sight I am very disturbed about my grandchildren’s futures.

They are still safe in Canadian schools but how do you give the kids some confidence to believe in an honest Christian life when Americans keep holding up Mexico as the poster child or the “guilty party” of the American drug war.

America’s complete foreign policy is attacking most of latin America and South America and Central America and Canada and Afghanistan and Europe and pretty much the whole planet using the drug pretext as a “control stick” to affect democratic reform.

Of course, the only winners are the hired security agents and enforcement agencies with their big budgets and the real loosers are the American people who pay for a policy which does not deliver good security but a more dangerous society compromised by bad economic and social policy.

a society based on ‘scarcity’ is what we currently have. a society based on ‘abundance’ is a better solution. abundance based on ‘sustainability’ is socially just and offers a ‘living’ paradym that can give meaningful context to peoples’ lives. what is the primary reason for substance use/abuse? most would say “lack of meaning”
which often leads to feelings of hopelessness, rage, mental illness. a society based primarily on financial gain will always be exploitive of ecology and society and therefore, unjust. there is only one issue at the top of the to do list nationally and internationally: GREEN SUSTAINABILITY. do we have the ‘time window’ to go in this direction? well, if we don’t, we will self destruct along with the world’s ecosystems which are the source of all life, wealth, and well being. think about it: what is the bedrock of all our advanced societal accomplishments,ideologies, material wellbeing, etc.: truly, it is the EARTH. rape the earth and soon you wiil only possess a handful of ashes, the resting place of all false nonsustainable ways of life. thaks for reading this and hopefull reflecting on how this might apply to your life.

Posted by lois | Report as abusive

Mr. Choi,

I think we both are missing each other’s point. You wish such things never existed. Interesting wish, and I can sympathize with your situation but, I cannot agree with you. Tobacco though abused does have uses. Granted few are medicinal (e.g. elimination of respiratory and intestinal parasites) but, it is a great organic pesticide for your garden and used in moderation enjoyable. I also agree that Nicotine is very, very addictive. Nicotine is more addictive than most illegal drugs. However for addiction to occur you need more than an addictive substance. You need a person who is both physically and psychologically prone to addiction. My comments below, though grated vague, referenced alcohol because there is a lot of research on the illness of alcoholism. An alcoholic produces a certain body chemistry that is conducive to alcohol consumption and a personality that has been termed an addictive personality. Given the reality that there are numerous substances that a person can abuse, taking marijuana, tobacco, cocaine and opium out of the market will not stop addiction. The Addict will find something else. Please note that research has shown that during the highest point in the War on some Drugs the addicts of this nation turned to substances like paint and glue even aerosols that were pressurized with nitrous oxide. My point is this nation needs to stop this stupidity called the War on Drugs and look at the situation rationally. The substance does not make the addict. The addict has an illness that is both genetic and psychological and needs treatment. Like with alcohol consumption, the addict (alcoholic) makes up an insignificant portion of the population consuming the substance. It would be more rational and less expensive to use the resources now applied to drug interdiction on treatment of addicts. I do not think addicts should be jailed simply because they are using a substance. If they violate someone’s rights or endanger someone then treat them as if they were not an addict and prosecute them for the crimes they commit.

If these substances were legal the prices would crash, the production would be brought into this country, draining the funding to the criminals south of the boarder and in the Middle East. New jobs would be created here. New taxes would be realized and there would be additional cost savings in prison and law enforcement. The idea that the number of addicts per capital would increase has never been shown in those societies that have legalized. In fact by substance category (like heroin) addicts actually decreased due to the exposure to the medical community who were administering the substance.

Currently there is no control stopping kids from gaining easy access to these substances. At least in the White markets you have stores who will not sell to minors. Minors are resourceful and you will see theft and fraud gain the bold access but at least it will be more difficult that today where any kid with money can get any illegal substance they desire.

Given the experience with Alaska the local city governments will be upset since a large part of their revenues come from fining people for possession and that source will no longer be available. There will be a shift from interdiction to law enforcement actually expending their resources on real crime. Our laws over the last 60 years have been used to ensure these black markets are profitable to not only the criminals but also government entities. This needs to change. I think this shift is necessary not just in this country but globally. If the US moves in this direction the rest of the world will follow.

I disagree with a government that attempts to dictate under penalty of law what someone can or cannot put into their body. Personal freedom is a right in this country and our lawmakers have grossly abused their power in this area. It needs to stop.

Now if you like we can have a whole other conversation in a different forum on how the big tobacco companies took advantage of no government purity controls to produce a cheap and dangerous product that was proven to cause carcinoma at lower carcinogen concentration levels than the rest of the world’s processed tobacco cigarettes and caused more cardiovascular damage through their inane attempt to create more addicts by increasing the nicotine levels.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

In my original post, the point I was trying to make was that all these proposals are trying to patch up a broken economic system by consuming new markets instead of trying to fix the system… whether it be marijuana or gambling, we’re continuing in search for endless consumption.

Everyone thinks this will be a solution. It is not. And that’s what I was trying to say. I actually am not against legalizing marijuana if it was for medical reasons or for war against drugs. But I don’t speak for everyone and while the morality of this issue is up for debate and I certainly don’t think it’ll be resolved on this board but the reasons for proposing to legalize it… this economy… I believe is not the fix.

Posted by Brian Choi | Report as abusive

[...] asserts marijuana is no worse than alcohol, and alcohol brings the government big money.  Several economists agree with the premise, pointing to a similar policy enacted during the Great Depression that had positive benefits; [...]