There are at least a couple economic reasons why recent voters in 23 states passed laws to legalize marijuana. The expensive and ineffective “War on Drugs” is one of them. This ill-conceived and misapplied policy has cost the U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, locked up a hugely disproportionate number of African-Americans for minor drug offenses and has been virtually ineffective in lessening instances of crime, addiction, poverty and broken families.
Legalizing just one popular drug, marijuana, allows the states to earn billions of revenue through taxation. Both Colorado and Oregon have legalized the drug and have already pumped a large portion of the marijuana tax revenue to public schools and drug treatment and education. Oregon, specifically, will direct 25 percent of the tax revenue to drug treatment and education and 40 percent to the state’s beleaguered public school system.
Aside from a rosy economic outlook, add the fact that marijuana isn’t actually the harmful, strongly addictive substance that much of conventional wisdom has dictated. According to a popular science magazine “The Scientific American,” marijuana is far less addictive than other legal and illegal drugs. Only nine percent of its users become addicted — compared to 15 percent with alcohol, 23 percent with heroin and 32 percent with nicotine — meaning 91 percent of marijuana users do not get hooked.
At the same time, arguments identifying marijuana as a gateway drug that leads to the use and craving of stronger substances lose ground once juxtaposed with this logic: cigarettes and beer should also be considered gateway drugs. Because these legal, more addictive substances are not viewed in the same negative light, the reasons for prohibiting the sale, distribution and use of marijuana diminish substantially.
Marijuana Legalization and Recovery
Legalizing marijuana may actually even aid in the recovery of substance abuse. For instance:
- Marijuana can reduce pain in recovering addicts who may otherwise return to using the more addictive substances that they are desperately trying to avoid.
- Marijuana has been shown to help opiate, cocaine and alcohol abusers reduce bodily harm from these far more toxic substances.
- The dollar savings that derive from legal marijuana are twofold. Besides lessening the cost of law enforcement, incarceration and court costs, the savings can be transferred to fund drug education, rehabilitation and retraining to allow former substance abusers to become productive members of society.
Comparative Data: Drug Decriminalization in Portugal
Portugal decriminalized drug use 12 years ago. Today, the data reveals the following:
- While usage among adults has risen, teenage usage continues to fall.
- The number of drug addicts who have undergone rehabilitation treatments has increased dramatically.
- The number of drug addicts infected with HIV has fallen significantly.
An important thing to note is that though Portugal “decriminalized” illegal drugs, it did not technically “legalize” them. What this means is that a Portuguese citizen can legally buy and possess 1 gram of heroin, 2 grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana and 5 grams of hashish, but anyone disobeying these limits is subject to a penalty similar to a parking violation.
Portugal’s philosophy on this policy is that substance abusers are not criminals. Instead, they are sick and need treatment. Treatment is mandatory for the user caught with an over-limit supply of drugs in his possession.
While it might be argued that 12 years is not long enough to make a permanent policy decision and data on addiction is notoriously difficult to come by, Portugal seems to be doing something right by its addicts. Other countries might take a good hard look at this and adopt a similar policy. One thing is clear – all humanity is losing the war on drugs and paying dearly to keep this senseless battle raging.