Legalizing marijuana, while controversial, would be a step in the right direction and would ease prison overcrowding, reduce illegal immigration, and have the potential to greatly increase tax revenue. Yet despite these obvious advantages, the United States and many other countries still dole out harsh punishments on even the most casual users of marijuana. This is a policy that must come to an end.
Decriminalizing marijuana would help increase the amount of revenue on hand in several ways. First off, the resources used in fighting the so called “War on Drugs” would be greatly reduced. Second, legalized marijuana purchases would provide additional revenue in the form of sales tax. Third, companies that grow and distribute the marijuana would in turn provide even more tax revenue as well as much needed jobs. According to Jeffrey A. Miron in his report titled “Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition in the United States,” over $2.4 billion in tax revenue would be generated by the sale of marijuana, and other research estimates are even higher.
In addition to the added tax revenue, legalizing marijuana would also create jobs. The road from the field to the smoker is a long one and the plant passes through many hands along the way. Retail marijuana production would create jobs in growing, cutting, processing, distribution and sales. These are jobs that put money in people’s hands and tax revenues in the state’s treasury. Additional jobs would also be created at the state and federal level as governments take on inspectors and regulators to oversee the marijuana production industry.
The hidden benefit of jobs is the reduction in crime that goes along with a prosperous population. Both The United States Government Accountability Office has researched and found strong ties between poverty and crime in their paper entitled “Poverty In America: Consequences for Individuals and the Economy”. They found that someone who is struggling to support their family or who has been disillusioned by a system that they believe has failed them is far more likely to turn to criminal activity than someone in a stable environment. So then how can the government so easily turn their back on a new industry created by legalized marijuana that would create thousands of new jobs and restore hope to communities hit hardest by the recession?
Criminal activity naturally leads to arrest and detainment. No one will deny that prison overcrowding is a huge problem facing the country today. It costs upwards of $22,000 per year just to house one inmate in a state correctional facility, yet the authorities continue to stuff marijuana users into these facilities. By introducing laws intended to keep violent repeat offenders off the street the government also ensured that those convicted of possession of even small amounts of marijuana would find themselves facing longer and longer sentences. The group Human Rights Watch in their report titled “Incarcerated America” tells us “that in the year 2000, over 22% of the state and federal prison population were being held on drug crimes,” and that the quadrupling of prison populations was due to the fallout from longer sentencing guidelines intended for violent criminals.
What’s even more baffling is how illegal immigrants carrying small amounts of marijuana are handled. First, the immigrant is sentenced for violating immigration laws, and then they are hit with even more jail time for the drug offense. So the immigrant then sits in prison being fed, clothed, and cared for on taxpayer dollars only to turn around and be deported once their sentence is complete. Why should taxpayers be spending tens of thousands of dollars per year just to keep an illegal immigrant who was busted with a couple of joints behind bars here instead of just sending the immigrant back to their home country?
According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, there were 72,000 criminal aliens in federal custody at the end of 2007 solely because of drug charges. Even if only 10% of these were there because of marijuana, removing that 10% from the prison population and sending them back to their home country would save almost two hundred million dollars per year.
By making marijuana possession legal and increasing the legal manufacture of the drug in the United States, there would be less demand for the drug from South America. With fewer drugs crossing the border, the number of immigrants who transport drugs in exchange for a cash infusion to help them with the crossing would drop in turn. A reduction in the number of illegal crossings would also result in the reduction of the need for tax payer provided resources by immigration and border control agencies.