Economists Call Current Pot Laws Dopey

Discussion
Jun 02, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


The Nobel Prize winning economist and a founding father of Reagonomics doesn’t smoke marijuana so there’s no question as to whether he inhales or not, but he does think it’s high time (sorry, pun intended) to end laws that make its sale and use illegal.


Prof. Milton Friedman is among 500 economists who have publicly endorsed a Harvard University report, The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition, that says legalizing it would save states and the federal government $7.7 billion a year while bringing in between $2.4 billion and $6.2 billion in additional tax revenues annually, depending on the rate of the levy.


“There is no logical basis for the prohibition of marijuana,” the economist told Forbes, “$7.7 billion is a lot of money, but that is one of the lesser evils. Our failure to successfully enforce these laws is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Colombia. I haven’t even included the harm to young people. 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.”


“I’ve long been in favor of legalizing all drugs,” he said. “Look at the factual consequences: The harm done and the corruption created by these laws…the costs are one of the lesser evils.”


Prof. Friedman doesn’t believe that legalizing marijuana or any other illicit drug would have any impact on the current federal budget deficit. “Deficits are the only thing that keeps this Congress from spending more” he said. “Republicans are no different from Democrats. Spending is the easiest way to buy votes.”


Moderator’s Comment: Should the retail industry support the legalization of marijuana? If it were legalized, how would the transition be made from the
current black market system to one where product was sold, presumably, in retail stores?

George Anderson – Moderator

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14 Comments on "Economists Call Current Pot Laws Dopey"


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Bill Bittner
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Bill Bittner
15 years 8 months ago

I am reminded of my first visits to Georgia in the early 70’s when there were still (and may yet be) many dry counties. The locals laughed at the scene when liquor laws were up for vote. They had to put up with the conservative Baptists and moonshine producers marching arm in arm to protest the potential liberalization of the liquor laws.

I agree with everyone’s observations, but sometime soon I hope the “silent majority” will be heard and people will be allowed to conduct their lives as they wish as long as it doesn’t hurt others. Then again, this is probably just a “pipe” dream because the term “silent majority” has been around for quite a while. It is not just recently that the majority have not been heard.

Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
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Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
15 years 8 months ago

Why not? Friedman et al make strong arguments for legalization from a variety of platforms. The obvious way to start the process is to put it in with the BATF, set some guidelines, sell it like you sell alcohol and cigarettes. My sense is that, if it were legalized, there would be fewer traffic fatalities but we might have to support the new snacking tax because of the munchies! I think the positives really outweigh the negatives.

Al McClain
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Al McClain
15 years 8 months ago

I have no idea whether the retail industry should support the legalization of marijuana or not, but it doesn’t matter, as there is less chance of this happening than a return to prohibition. We’re in an extremely conservative social climate at the moment and political conservatives and evangelicals are not going to support this as it goes against their core beliefs. Not going to happen and I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

Karen Kingsley
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Karen Kingsley
15 years 8 months ago

I agree with Al that this is a purely rhetorical question. I have long thought we should legalize all drugs for all the reasons mentioned. People are going to use drugs regardless, but if we controlled the pipeline, then we would save millions of lives as well as billions of dollars in jail, court and law enforcement time. Besides, we could tax the heck out of them and generate revenue. We would avoid deaths due to contamination or bad drugs. All around it makes a lot of sense. But it is, as it were, a pipe dream.

To answer the question, I would put it in the hands of the BATF and the IRS – the IRS being the tougher of the two entities.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

Al’s right, of course, but he’s still young, so it may yet happen in his lifetime. I have a hard time not laughing out loud when I think of what Bush’s reaction to this would be. Would he go totally apoplectic? Would he pronounce “marijuana” “Marra-jew-wanna?” If the time does come, say, 20 or 30 years hence, we should look to the countries where it is legal and learn from them. When I was in Amsterdam a few years ago, I was told that in some stores the stuff was actually in packages with UPC codes. That, as they say, blew my mind, but I was never able to prove it. For the record, I did inhale in the ’60s, and therefore have no plans to ever run for president.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

Al, no doubt you’re right about this being taken seriously in the near term, but the political/social pendulum swings quickly and who knows what the next decade will bring? Also consider that religious conservatives and fiscal conservatives often inhabit the same bodies. What could possibly be the rationale for spending tax dollars on incarcerating young people for smoking pot? At some point, I believe this will become less of a partisan issue as practical demands win out.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
15 years 8 months ago
Personally, I don’t trust ANY of the arguments, which is another way of saying I have no idea what should be done. But I have seen analysis of prohibition, which is generally thought of as a disastrous joke, that suggests that it was far more effective than it is given credit for. Like quite a number of other commentators here, I have a libertarian streak. But it’s not unlimited, and I’m not at all persuaded that legalization is warranted. Pretending that this is a private issue (smoking marijuana) that doesn’t hurt anyone else is extremely unpersuasive. There are some pertinent comments by G.K. Chesterton on the changing of social policy: “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it… Read more »
Robert Daffin
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Robert Daffin
15 years 8 months ago

I won’t bother touching on whether marijuana possession and use should be legalized. However, I will disagree with one of the study’s conclusions, in that few will bother to grow their own should it be made legal to do so. Distilling whiskey in the home is difficult–growing cannabis is easy. I recall hearing that the Chairman of the Bureau of Narcotics originally resisted the idea of criminalizing marijuana back in the 1930’s because the plant grows wild in all 50 states. There already exists a counterculture retail market in equipment that allows indoor cultivation. This market is large enough today that police in some areas have resorted to using thermal imaging to identify houses where grow lights are in operation. Certainly, many people who would use cannabis would not bother to grow their own, but viewing the potential percentages as being analogous to home whiskey distillers is off the mark.

Edward Herrera
Guest
Edward Herrera
15 years 8 months ago

Should we legalize pot or shouldn’t we? This study has raised questions on and off for some years and it only remains a question. Studies on Pot will not address the deeper social and economic implications that retailers would face, based on their position of the question. I believe this issue is too hot for mainstream retailers, but a small regional retailer, with liberal demographics, may be able to bring national attention to the question. Attention is all the question will enjoy for now.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 8 months ago

Speaking hypothetically, marijuana might prove to be a profitable line for retailers. And it seems righteous to stop incarcerating young people for simple possession at a high cost to taxpayers. But I wouldn’t advocate that retailers take an active pro-pot stance. Most have been backing away from tobacco sales due mainly to health concerns. Pot risks are similar. And considering the present quality of the retail workforce – what kind of labor pool would chain retailers have to draw from if pot were actually legal?

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 8 months ago
The world is ruled by minorities but in this case, it is hard to tell which minority will take priority, them that approves of legalising marijuana or them agin it. Regardless, I don’t think it’s an issue on which it is possible – let alone wise – for the retail industry as a whole to even try taking a stand. Just look at the arguments raging over the morning after pill and whether it should be OTC. Or the disagreements about de-regulating the price of prescription drugs. And the problems over identification to restrict purchases of alcohol, tobacco and even glue, cold pills and other substances that could conceivably be distilled into something for which it was not specifically intended. Whatever my personal views, I think that for the industry legalisation will open up a whole new minefield that will take years of acrimony, legislation and judicial reviews to implement. It should not, and would not, be advisable for there to be any kind of general retail policy endorsing either legalisation or maintenance of the… Read more »
Stephen Conmy
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Stephen Conmy
15 years 8 months ago
Hello from Ireland. This is a very interesting proposal and one I’m sure any ambitious politician would publicly rubbish and run away from. The so-called ‘war’ on drugs was won by the drug barons decades ago. No law enforcement agency nor government worldwide has a snowball’s chance of clawing back any kind of ground despite winning the odd skirmish. ‘Combating’ drug trafficking is the biggest waste of tax payers’ money going. That money would be better invested in Health and Social Welfare/Community building and of course Education. A good education system is the single biggest antidote to any community/social drug problems. All drugs should be made legal, and in the hands of the giant pharma companies could be rendered safer and profitable for individual countries. Most drugs are bi-products of plants that grow naturally. God did intend them for use! A true democracy should be built on common sense and consensus. Even the great George Dubya knows the power and allure of narcotics. Hopefully, in the next decade, a world leading economy will tackle the… Read more »
roberta sims
Guest
roberta sims
15 years 8 months ago

“What kind of labor pool would chain retailers have to draw from if pot were actually legal?” Exactly the same one they have now. No more people are going to go out behind the dumpster on their break than already do. Companies have rules about drinking on the job; they can have rules about inhaling on the job.

I agree that there is zero chance of this happening in the current social climate, but let’s use facts rather than emotions in this discussion.

Steve Yetsko
Guest
Steve Yetsko
13 years 6 months ago

Never say never. Who would have ever thought they would repeal the national 55 MPH speed limit?

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