Ethan Nadelmann is executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance
MARIJUANA SHOULD NEVER have been made illegal in the first place.
Its prohibition was driven not by expert medical testimony or objective
economic analysis, but rather by prejudice against Mexican-Americans and
Mexican migrants, with whom marijuana was popularly associated. Rancid
tabloid journalism also played a role, as did Reefer Madness–like propaganda and legislative testimony.
We know the result. Marijuana became dramatically more popular
after its prohibition than it ever was before. More than 100 million Americans have tried it
[ www.oas.samhsa.gov], including the three most recent occupants of the White House. Billions
of dollars are spent and earned illegally on it each year, according to the United Nations Office
on Drugs and Crime. Marijuana is routinely described as the first, second or third most lucrative
agricultural crop in many states. And taxpayers are obliged to spend billions of their own dollars
each year in support of futile efforts to enforce an unenforceable prohibition.
Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law is enforced so
widely and harshly yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace. The
Regulating and taxing marijuana more or less like alcohol would allow law enforcement to
focus on serious crimes. It would deprive organized gangsters in Mexico and elsewhere of bil-
lions of dollars of revenue annually, and raise billions of dollars of tax revenue for financially
strapped state and local governments. Meanwhile, laws against being high in the workplace and
driving impaired would remain as they are now.
And, finally, the principal, and most principled, argument in favor of ending marijuana prohibition is this: Whether or not I or anyone else consumes marijuana should be none of the government’s business, so long as I’m not behind the wheel of a car or otherwise putting others at
risk. It’s time to get the government off my property and out of my pockets and my body when it
comes to marijuana. Enough is enough. C
FEBRUARY DEBATE RESULTS:
Should you be able to opt
out of Social Security?
Percentage reflects votes
DECEMBER DEBATE RESULTS:
received by February 14, 2012.
Is it OK to thank
people by email?
YES: 47% NO: 53%
Percentage reflects votes received by
December 31, 2011. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
from an expert in the field:
Robert L. DuPont, M.D., was the founding director of the National
Institute on Drug Abuse. He is president of the Institute for Behavior and
Health Inc. and a fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
SUPPORT FOR MARIJUANA legalization traditionally is based on the
argument that marijuana is virtually harmless. Recent claims have suggested
that taxation of legal marijuana would be a boon to cash-strapped states.
Both are false claims.
Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in the world. In 2010,
17. 4 million Americans age 12 or older, or 6. 9 percent of the population,
More young people are in treatment due to marijuana use than for all other drugs (including
alcohol) combined. In 2010, according to the same survey, 4. 5 million marijuana users of all ages
were classified with marijuana dependence or abuse. Legalizing marijuana would dramatically
increase the number of current users and the resulting health and social costs. Marijuana use is a
significant cause of highway crashes. A study of seriously injured drivers admitted to a trauma
center showed 26. 9 percent tested positive for marijuana. A traffic-injury-prevention study found
that among drivers in that group age 16 to 20, 50 percent tested positive for marijuana versus
33. 3 percent for alcohol. A forthcoming epidemiological study concluded that marijuana use
doubles the risk of car crashes.
Marijuana legalization by states is not a solution to their financial problems. The $14 billion
now collected in state and federal alcohol revenue is outweighed by the $235 billion in social
costs. Similarly, tobacco yields $25 billion in taxes and $200 billion in social costs. Legalization
will not stop the drug cartels. If marijuana were legalized they would continue to make billions
from other drugs.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the nation’s
long-standing bipartisan, balanced and restrictive drug policy has resulted in a 37 percent
decrease in illegal drug use from its peak in 1979. In that time, current marijuana use fell nearly
48 percent. While drug policy can be improved, an effective strategy to lower drug use—and the
resulting harm from such use—does not include marijuana legalization. C
MARCH 2012 The Costco Connection 15
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented and
are presented to foster discussion.
Costco and The Costco Connection take no
position on any Debate topic.