Gov. Schwarzenegger recently suggested that California and our country should maybe take a look at legalizing marijuana and I think he’s right, we should. I’d like to lay out a thought out argument for decriminalizing drugs and legalizing marijuana. This is something that I have gone back and forth about for a long time, but I think the time is here. Let me add as a caveat that I do not smoke (tobacco or marijuana), drink or do drugs and haven’t done so in 15 years, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize coherent arguments for legalizing or at least decriminalizing it.
First and foremost the financial reasons. According to some accounts marijuana accounts for about 2 out of ever 5 arrests, 34,000 state prisoners per year and nearly 800,000 Americans annually have been arrested on marijuana charges. The Department of Justice alone (this does not include any state prisons) spends more then $1 billion annually to imprison offenders. The state of California alone spends nearly $4 billion to incarcerate violators of anti-marijuana laws. This does not include the costs we spend on law enforcement, prosecution and parole of offenders. I have not been able to find any figures, but it is likely these costs would also be several billion dollars a year in savings were we to decriminalize marijuana. Furthermore, it is estimated that marijuana sales exceed $105 billion in gross sales annually, even with a modest 7.5% tax that would mean about $10 billion in tax revenues, if we implemented a tax regime similar to what we have with tobacco it could mean somewhere in the $40 billion dollar tax range, not a sum to sneeze at, especially for local and state governments.
The typical response to this is that we’ll spend more money in rehabilitation and social costs such as higher crime rates, etc. to support pot habits. I just don’t think this is true, and in any event I don’t think we’ll spend more then we are already spending to combat these side-effects of using drugs. Lets take countries like Holland and Portugal (which has decriminalized all drugs) as an example, you just don’t see a greater wide-spread use in those countries then you do here, its just done with less shame and jail time. They have not experienced increased financial costs since they have decriminalized marijuana. At least if the government had tax revenues from marijuana sales they could actually pay for effective drug rehab programs.
It is also argued that marijuana is a “gateway” drug that leads to use of harder drugs like cocaine or heroin. I’m not sure that is true or not, I won’t go into my sordid history or past, but lets just say that I never met anyone for whom this was actually true. My father used to scare me with that very line, I didn’t buy it because my life experience told me differently. I’m sure there are some cases where this may have been the case, but for the average person I don’t know why marijuana would necessarily lead to more drug use then alcohol. When you treat someone as a criminal they might just act like one. Instead, bring it out in the open, have some regulation and control of it and it is arguable that marijuana use could actually decrease.
Furthermore, as a conservatives, do we really want the government interfering with the way we live our lives? Whether it is smoking cigarettes, practicing devil worship or marrying someone of the same sex, this is just not something the government should have any say in. We should be free to make our own choices, for good or evil. As long that choice does not harm another person, we should all be allowed to make these choices, that is what a free society means.