[Debate] Prohibition: Round two

In an effort to engender educated conversation, the Opinion staff will debate pressing election topics.  Future debate topic idea?  Email Zach Brown at zbrown@samford.edu.

Positions are determined by coin-flip.  Stated opinions may not necessarily reflect an individual columnist’s view, but are crafted for rhetorical exercise.

Should marijuana be legalized in the United States?

To see Katie Savage’s response to this question, click here.

Prohibition: Round two

By Evan Elmore


Back in the good ole days, the United States government had a brilliant idea. Society had a problem with alcohol consumption, and we needed to get it under control. Our genius solution, the 18th Amendment, “worked” for about 15 years. Then, Americans decided that the cost of enforcing the Dry Law was higher than the benefits we experienced from decreased consumption.

Unfortunately, the prohibition of marijuana is a similar inefficiency. That is, ignoring the libertarian battle cry of “My body; my choice,” it is simply not worth the wasted time and money to continue the current attitude toward marijuana.

Please note, I do not think that everyone should smoke marijuana. However, it is ridiculous to pursue a policy that creates significantly more harm (through inefficiency) than benefit. It takes little more than a basic understanding of facts to see that lawmakers are pursuing this type of loss under the guise of protecting the public.

First of all, the crime statistics surrounding marijuana are astounding. Fewer than 10% of inmates at federal prisons who were convicted of federal crimes involving marijuana also faced charges involving violent crime. This number includes the major drug busts that we occasionally see plastered on the front page of the local newspaper.

Therefore, unlike other, “harder” drugs, there is virtually no link between marijuana consumption and increased rates of violent crime. So, how is the law justified from this perspective? It isn’t. Simply put, outlawing marijuana does nothing for violent crime despite our common misconception.

Secondly, banning marijuana does not prevent access. Year after year, in a survey overseen by the CDC, approximately 85% of high school students indicate that they know where to buy marijuana. Furthermore, about 15% of 8th graders have smoked marijuana at some point in their lives. Also, the 2009 edition of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 16.7 million Americans smoke marijuana on a daily basis. Hence, it seems highly unlikely that criminalizing has prevented access to marijuana for the majority of Americans.

Moreover, the economic benefits of legalization are undeniable in the context of the current system. According to the most conservative estimates, the government spends approximately $7.7 billion on marijuana prohibition enforcement. With additional tax revenues, Milton Friedman and George Akerlof, both Nobel laureates, believe the government would generate between $10 and $14 billion. Given, $14 billion is a small part of our $1 trillion deficit, but it certainly helps more than cutting the federal funding to PBS.

The typical response to this increase in government revenue is to complain about the potential negative health effects that Americans would have to subsidize. However, at this point, we are no longer debating legality. Instead, we are debating whether I should have to pay for your poor decisions. Unfortunately, that line of argument takes you down a road that you do not want to travel.

For example, should fast food be illegal? It certainly has negative health benefits. Our instinctual response is typically that fast food should be allowed because it is the irresponsible overconsumption of fast food that causes these powerful effects. However, many studies have shown that this argument holds smoking marijuana as well.

Finally, many politicians would have you believe that legalizing marijuana will dramatically decrease output potential because marijuana tends to make the user lethargic. However, the same argument could be made for alcohol. No one argues that alcohol should be banned because it decrease economic output. Instead, Americans realize that alcohol simply has no place in the work environment. Similarly, it is not difficult to imagine that legalizing marijuana would increase use outside of work hours without affecting at-work use.

With all of this information in mind, it seems that failing to legalize marijuana is little more than needless regulation of personal decisions. Regardless of your moral stance on marijuana, you must acknowledge that the facts are quite convincing.

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