According to The Economist, the US spends some $40 billion each year on trying to eliminate the supply of drugs. It also arrests 1.5m of its citizens each year for drug offences, locking up half a million of them. One in five black American men spend some time behind bars charged with drug offences.
While this opening paragraph could be the jumping off point for a whole variety of arguments in favor of a more relaxed attitude to drugs, the focus of this piece is the monetary cost of regulation. In his ground-breaking marijuana study, economist Stephen T. Easton estimated that in 2004 the average price of 0.5 grams of marijuana was 8.60 Canadian dollars on the street, while its cost of production was only 1.70 Canadian dollars. Most of that hefty profit is seen by the underground suppliers as ‘danger money’ – paying them for the risks they take in supplying an illegal substance. Easton argues that if marijuana was legalized, we could transfer these excess profits caused by the risk-premium from these grow operations to the government.
In California, weed is the biggest cash crop, bringing in roughly twice that earned by milk and cream, the state’s second largest agricultural commodity. California tax collectors estimate that legalizing cannabis would bring in around $1.3 million in review and get the state’s finances out of ‘the toilet’ some experts claim they are in. In fact, cannabis is the USA’s largest cash crop, with a production value of $35,803,591 back in 2006.
Opponents, of course, are claiming that the increase in revenue would be at the cost of the state’s society; an legalization of the evil weed, they argue, would see a surge in ‘bad outcomes for both the people who use it and for the people who are in their way at work or other activities.’
We’ll leave the last word to retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray, a long-time proponent of cannabis legalization.
Judge Gray estimates that legalizing pot and thus ceasing to arrest, prosecute and imprison non-violent offenders could save the state $1 billion a year. “We couldn’t make this drug any more available if we tried,” he says. “Not only do we have those problems, along with glamorizing it by making it illegal, but we also have the crime and corruption that go along with it.”
He goes on to say, “Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substances to use, to misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They’re here to stay. So let’s try to reduce those harms, and right now we couldn’t do it worse if we tried.”