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February 25, 2009

"Time For Marijuana Legalization?"

The title of this post is the question being asked here by CBS News analyst Andrew Cohen.  Cohen picks up on the latest discussion of the costs of the death penalty to take the idea of criminal justice reform in tough times one step further.  Here are snippets:

After generations of defending capital punishment and marijuana possession laws on moral, ethical and religious grounds, after years of declaring that the death penalty acted as a deterrent against violent crime and that pot smokers were more dangerous to society than, say, alcohol consumers, all of a sudden thanks to our economic crisis more and more mainstream powerbrokers are considering dramatic changes to our criminal justice system....

These declarations, from the political and legal arena, are not just isolated voices shouting into the wilderness.  Consider the late, great Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate, former Reagan advisor, and esteemed scholar associated with the very conservative Hoover Institution.  He was among hundreds of important economists who argue that pot should be legalized and taxed - and that the income from such taxation could generate billions in new revenues and billions more in enforcement savings.  If you live in California,  what would you rather have?  Pot smokers whose cases are tying up the legal system?  Or better health care and roads thanks to a marijuana tax. I’m just asking the question— and others are too.

Friedman and his colleagues first made these arguments years ago — before the economy tanked. Is it time to take his view more seriously with states facing huge budget shortfalls that threaten to curtail vital projects and policies?  It is such a great leap from releasing prisoners from prison early to save money and not sending them there at all to save more?  I would suspect a survey of police officials and prosecutors, and a survey of state budget officials, would indicate that the matter is being taken more seriously today than it ever has been.

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February 25, 2009 at 06:17 PM | Permalink


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Once again, the persistent myth that California prisons are bursting with people who have done nothing more than possess a joint.

Friedman's arguments deserve consideration, but they are not helped by Cohen's tripe based on false premises.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 25, 2009 6:49:01 PM

I am glad to see states like California taking the lead by trying to decriminalize marijuana. We keep electing presidents who have admittingly used marijuana. We should take a serious look at changing our out dated marijuana laws.

Posted by: Tarheel | Feb 25, 2009 7:21:47 PM

Should marijuana be legalized? Yes.

Should it be taxed to pay for stupid social programs? No.

Posted by: Ben | Feb 25, 2009 8:03:13 PM

It's time to end the war on drugs. We tried it and we failed.

Posted by: beth | Feb 25, 2009 10:59:40 PM

But what about the argument that pot is a "gateway drug." Although most professional have smoked pot, when a poor person smokes pot they are condemned to a life of pothead poverty.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 26, 2009 12:16:57 AM

After generations of defending capital punishment and marijuana possession laws on moral, ethical and religious grounds, after years of declaring that the death penalty acted as a deterrent against violent crime and that pot smokers were more dangerous to society than, say, alcohol consumers.

Posted by: Acai | Feb 26, 2009 5:46:42 AM

I am not up on the particulars of this debate, but I think some would argue that pot is a "gateway drug" to the prison system, because even if not so many people are serving terms for possessing "a joint," or even for dealing, many first get ensared in the criminal justice system through some kind of pot conviction, and there are various collateral consequences to being so ensared that tend to funnel people toward prison and away from a straight life. I have also seen it argued that pot laws contribute to prison poplutations indirectly because many later convictions/sentences are enhanced by multiple prior low-level drug convictions. At any rate, I think the neo-Prohibition of marijuana is absurd and wasteful as a matter of social policy, regardless of prison economics.

On the other hand, I guess it is possible that legalizing pot could increase illegal use of harder drugs. If pot becomes legal and that business is transferred from the underground drug-distribution economy to the above-ground economy, the underground economy, in theory, will suddenly have a major revenue shortfall combined with excess capacity. Will that excess capacity just dissappear? Will workers go straight (or get jobs in legal head shops)? Or will drug-distribution networks seek to save their revenues by pushing different drugs? If the answer to the last question is yest, the legalization of pot could theoretically lead to an uptick in illegal crack/meth/heroin distribution. (Of course, my understanding is that organized crime plummeted after Prohibition was repealed, so maybe this "excess capacity" theory is a nonstarter.)

Posted by: Observer | Feb 26, 2009 10:02:46 AM

When we legalized gambling in Iowa we taxed gambling and part of the tax revenues were to be used to treat people that were addicted to gambling. I agree this seems goofy but the governor and the legislature wanted the additional revenue. A common argument for legalizing marijuana is that it will provide a new source of tax revenue. I suppose a corollary is it would also provide a new source of funds to pay for drug treatment.

About 872,000 people are arrested each year on a marijuana charge and it appears that about 775,000 are low level offenders that are primarily fined and released. This suggests that there are at least 25 million users of marijuana in the US. Proving that marijuana is a gateway drug is similar to proving that aspirin causes cancer in that there is essentially no control population.

Posted by: John Neff | Feb 26, 2009 11:52:22 AM

Legalizing and taxing marijuana is pothead codepseak. No public budget, whether city, state, or nation, will balance or surplus based on speculative revenues from this plant. I am not aware of any data suggesting that Holland runs a budget surplus because of its legalization of marijuana.

Ending prohibition did not pull the United States out of the Depression. Legalizing marijuana will do little to benefit the public at large either socially or economically.

This debate has more to do with marijuana adovcates' belief that access to this plant is a fundamental human right rather than sound public policy.

Posted by: Large County Prosecutor | Feb 26, 2009 2:38:14 PM

Large County Prosecutor

Could one not argue that it is not very sound policy putting 775,000 people through our court systems and jails when the money and effort could be used putting real criminals into jail and actually keeping them there. In all my readings about legalization of marijuana I have yet to hear one person say that our war on marijuana has been successful. Will you be the first to make that declaration?

Posted by: Recon | Feb 26, 2009 8:09:56 PM

LCP: What are the tax revenues for alcohol and tobacco? I don't know the numbers off the top of my head, but I'm sure they're quite large. I suspect that current marijuana use is underestimated and if it were made legal, those numbers would surely growth.

If legalization of marijuana ever happens, it will be because the government will financially benefit from it. Just look at gambling to see that point.

Is marijuana a gateway drug? If you mean the first illegal drug that most people use on their way to other illegal drugs, then yes. If you mean that there is something about the drug per se that leads to illegal behavior, then no. Alcohol clearly takes the cake on that one (followed by cocaine).

That doesn't make it a harmless drug, but it's far down the list.

Posted by: | Feb 27, 2009 10:00:11 AM

Alcohol is clearly the "gateway drug" that people need to be aware of. How many of us have made poor choices while being legally drunk? Talk to battered wives and children... many of the beatings they endured came from the hands of a drunk, not a pot smoker... How many people have died at the hands of a stoned driver vs a drunk driver? Of all the friends of mine I have talked to, most have tried cocaine and other "hard" drugs while drinking, not toking. Wake up America!!

Posted by: DJ | Feb 28, 2009 6:49:31 PM

Re: beth
But what about the argument that pot is a "gateway drug." Although most professional have smoked pot, when a poor person smokes pot they are condemned to a life of pothead poverty.


Ignoring your statement that smoking pot = becoming a pothead, how is your argument different from poor people and alcohol? Poor people and cigarettes?

Let everyone, poor and rich and in-between, decide for themselves. This is yet another area where we don't need the government to "protect" us.

For those of you arguing against your tax dollars paying for medical marijuana...your tax and insurance dollars are already paying for other people's alcohol and tobacco abuse, so why draw this arbitrary line?

Full disclosure: I don't smoke, drink, or use pot. My choice. However I'm in favor of trusting others to make their own choices, and if the government creates new tax revenue and diminishes crime in the process, bonus.

Posted by: chicagofish | Mar 4, 2009 6:19:37 AM

Yes,It is time time legalize marijuana in the rest of the 39 States of our great country for medicinal purposes,Tax it heavily,allow personal growing for medically approved card holders.Stop prohibition lets face it beer is far more detrimental to your health then a blunt except that jail will ruin your life forever.
Benefits: more money to schools,balancing the national debt etc.,Don't be foolish.President Obama take the bull by the horns help us put of this depression.

Posted by: Todd | Mar 10, 2009 3:10:14 AM

marijuana doesn't kill anyone.people kill themselves by lacing it with a REAL drug like coke and overdosing.in all my life i've never once heard of someone dying by marijuana.sure, people that smoke crack AND do marijuana die but that's because of the crack not the marijuana.Marijuana is a natural herb that grows out of the ground we step on.Ever hear about meth trees sprouting up?No?i wonder why meth is so toxic and marijuana isn't.come on people, educate yourselves.

Posted by: scuff | Apr 3, 2009 10:07:33 PM

I think we should consider any option that we have to get ourselves out of this financial crisis that we are in. I support president Obama and his bailout measures, but I also do not want my grandchildren to have to carry the burden of George Bush's mess either. If the legalization can do any good for us and, from what I see, the pros of legalization outweigh the cons, we need to go forward with it. I know I would much rather have a balanced but and a blunt than a financial ruin and be sober.

Posted by: Jahnna Shoors | Apr 10, 2009 3:02:57 AM

College Student

The claim that marijuana is a "gateway" drug is largely due to the fact that it is illegal. This is because the route people must take to attain marijuana. Let's say you try marijuana and you like it. What do you do? You find some low-key drug dealer who is selling marijuana and possibly other drugs (cocaine, pills, whatever). Since you must get marijuana from a drug dealer you are more likely to try other drugs because your drug dealer offers you these other more expensive drugs.

If you put marijuana in the same type of market as alcohol, then it would no longer be considered a gateway drug because people are not associating with people who sell cocaine, pills, or whatever. They would no longer need to associate themselves with illegal drug dealers because there drug of choice is available in a safer, more regulated environment.

Posted by: Dport | Apr 15, 2009 9:26:21 PM

I hope they'll descriminalize in new york if this passes. I heard there was 50,000 arrests in nyc yearly for weed.

Posted by: Pumraa | Jun 19, 2009 7:41:42 PM

I just received a blog message by a Memphis Tennessee Cop that swore that "Tonight someone smoking pot will kll a mom and her kids in their minivan." It was on a government web-site. I may have made a mistake, but I set him straight. Now all I have to worry about is whether he decides to rough me up. I pasted the statistics for him on the web-


Posted by: Al | Jul 12, 2009 7:33:23 AM

Marijuana is not a “gateway” drug that predicts or eventually leads to substance abuse, suggests a 12-year University of Pittsburgh study. Moreover, the study’s findings call into question the long-held belief that has shaped prevention efforts and governmental policy for six decades and caused many a parent to panic upon discovering a bag of pot in their child’s bedroom. browser toolbars

The Pitt researchers tracked 214 boys beginning at ages 10-12, all of whom eventually used either legal or illegal drugs. When the boys reached age 22, they were categorized into three groups: those who used only alcohol or tobacco, those who started with alcohol and tobacco and then used marijuana (gateway sequence) and those who used marijuana prior to alcohol or tobacco (reverse sequence).

Posted by: Mr Awesome | Sep 14, 2009 1:18:02 PM

Just Legalize It, Baby!

Posted by: MMJdb | Oct 12, 2009 10:41:55 AM

Marijuana is said to possess certain medicinal values that can help the people stay healthy from various health disorders. They are believed to make the person feel active when consumed. But, I prefer that they must be used only by people after reaching specific ages and not be used by teenagers or youngsters. That may spoil their whole life also.
Nice sharing of effective information.

Posted by: Addiction Treatment | Jan 20, 2010 5:40:34 AM

It was said that Marijuana is an effective treatment for curing depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety, and similar mood disorders. Although the depressed person may feel relief from their symptoms by consuming Marijuana , this may be an illusion of well-being if the person loses motivation and productivity. So a proper analysis is essential to solve the debate.
Thanks for the post.

Posted by: Depression Illness | Jan 20, 2010 5:46:33 AM

In my opinion, I believe that marijuana should 110% be legalized, however the states and the goverment is making such a killing amount of money off the civilians/ citizens through legal issues and not to mention the money they get from the medical use, they'd rather just keep things the way they are, make that money, and leave us to suffer for something that the majority of people in our country believe should be legal.
Let's be real people, we all know that marijuana is not as bad as it is being made to believe. For goodness sake, alcohol is legal and that alone has caused more deaths than marijuana. I have never heard anyone die from smokeing weed overdose, you? I have heard of people overdoseing on prescriptions such as: oxicoton, vicadin, and even ritalin. On top of those I am positive that their are many more I failed to mention. But, hey it is okay, cause it is legal and the goverment agrees. As for the whole "gateway thing" I believe that if a person is going to try something than they are going to do it. I have smoked weed for years and I wouldn't trade it for anything else; not prescriptions, not alcohol, not acid, coc, nothing! Just give me a joint and I am fine. No headaches, no blackouts, no worries about what happened the night or day before. If alcohol is legal, why isn't marijuana? It is being underestimated, and we have something here that could possibly help millions of Americans, and not to mention the help our goverment may be able to benefit from economically.
So lets stop playing stupid and use or common sense, marijuana is being used against us for the benefit of the state, legal system. We are the ones who suffer for something that I honestly feel is just not right, think about it? There is something that can be done, but nobody wants to do it where we need it, the people are speaking, but who is listening. Legalize it and stop taking advantage of the people and stop taking our money and time!! - just another american.

Posted by: Manny | Feb 22, 2010 11:42:57 AM

It's simple to see who is benefiting from keeping marijuana illegal. Doctors, Lawyers, Judges, and all those who fall into the justice system category and politicians. All these people are banking off us, the average American citizen. They make so much money it is just crazy. I know someone who got pulled over for a broken headlight; and the cop smelled marijauna so he got charged with operating while impaired instead of the broken headlight he was actually getting pulled over for in the first place. He is now gonna pay major fines to the justice system/ state, a lawyer, 2 yrs. probation, community service, see a substance abuse counselor which cost bout $20 a visit, and his bond was $500. This guy is currently recieveing unemployment, which is almost up, seeking a job; BARELY making it. Not to mention that he has 4 other mouths to feed and support. All for having a LITTLE bit of THC in him. It was a broken headlight people! He wasn't even blitzed, couple hits all it took. I think that's bullshit, I understand punishment, but this is an over kill. Oh, he also has to pay $500 for 2 years to the state for the drivers responsibilty fee. And lose his license for 1 year. I believe that the whole legal issues on marijuana need to be changed. Minor issues, minor punishment; if it is major then major punishment. However,eveything is gonna fall into the major area cause that is where the money is, everyone gets paid! And who pays me and u, the average american citizen. They are getting rich off us and trying to use us to fix their economy issues. If people can drink alcohol, which is the cause of a lot of vehicle accident deaths, why can't marijuana be legalized like alcohol, because the goverment says, "it is BAD." That is straight up B.S.!!!

Posted by: Manny | Mar 4, 2010 8:49:16 AM

it's crazy that for lack of funds for the release of many prisoners. it's stupid I do not agree with the death penalty as an option

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