The two big wars the US is involved in these days are getting less and less popular by the minute, thanks in part to the 24-7 news coverage modern technology brings us.  I personally was fine with our invasion of Afghanistan and very much against our invasion of Iraq, but that’s not the topic I’m going to rant about today.  I want to talk about a “war” that the US has been losing for decades:  The War on Drugs.

The War on Drugs fought its first losing battle in 1969, when Richard Nixon used the term to describe a plan to intercept marijuana at border crossings in Mexico.  That lasted 20 days because of the burden on state border guards who had better things to do than inspect legitimate traffic for illegal materials.  Thanks in part to Nancy Reagan, the anti-drug campaign saw a huge media push in the 80′s – we all remember “Just Say No.”  It’s received quite a large amount of funding, too:  $600 dollars.

Yes.  $600 dollars.

A second.[1]

The Federal government alone spent $19 billion dollars in 2003 fighting illegal drug use.  When you combine state spending the figure for this year is already over $40 billion dollars.  Surely those large sums of money are doing some good, right?  85% of high school seniors say it would be “very easy” for them to get drugs if they wanted, and that figure has never dropped below 82% in the last 3 decades.[2]  Doesn’t congress hold budget inquiries for misused or misspent federal funds?  We’ve had our elected officials in Washington get involved with professional sports multiple times in the last decade, yet none of them are questioning why we’re spending billions a year on a war that has seen no improvement.  Imagine if McArthur was still trying to re-take the Philippines in 1951, appearing before congress like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.  That would have gone over well.

Add this economic sinkhole to a controversial yet widely accepted fact that marijuana, in terms of lung health only, is less harmful than cigarettes.[3]  In addition, the United States Department of Health and Human Services published a study in 2002 that showed less than 1 percent of Americans smoke marijuana on a daily basis, and just a small percentage of those were considered dependent.[4]  Personal anecdote time:  I know at least a dozen people who smoke pot multiple times a year.  All of them are productive members of society, holding jobs or making good grades in school.  Cigarette smoking cost the US almost 200 billion dollars a year between health care costs and lost productivity time (those smoking breaks add up!).  Pot doesn’t look so bad compared to your average Camel or Kool now, huh?

We have a war on drugs that is wasting vast sums of money and a drug that doesn’t appear to be overly harmful.  What is the point I’m trying to make?  We should legalize marijuana and tax it.  A recent Frasier Institute study showed that the price of .5 grams of weed on the street is about $8.60 while the cost to produce it was only $1.70.[5]  While that’s quite a profit, there are reasons for it, the biggest being it is illegal and not currently industrialized in this country.  But imagine if the government could get a decent sized chunk of that revenue.  In 2005 the Federal Government made 7.7 billion dollars on tobacco tax, and the state governments took in over 13 million combined.[6]  While not as many people would immediately jump to smoking pot, a big chunk of money would be simply saved from that $600 dollars a second in addition to the tax revenue you would generate.  A recent projection showed nearly a billion dollars a year could be made from the taxation of marijuana.[7]

I would think the tax revenue and savings alone would have Republicans jumping on the bandwagon to support this cause, but I fear pandering to the religious right and socially conservative crowd is the reason they don’t.

[1]  http://www.drugsense.org/wodclock.htm
[2]  http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/05data/pr05t13.pdf
[3]  http://www.healthline.com/blogs/smoking_cessation/2007/07/is-cannabis-smoking-more-harmful-than.html
[4]  http://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana/factsmyths/
[5]  http://economics.about.com/od/incometaxestaxcuts/a/marijuana.htm
[6]  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17170991/
[7]  http://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lists/taxes_marijuana/revenue.html

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Zarberg is a member of The Political Observers, a sub-group of our writers who are devoted to topics that are political in nature. Zarberg provides a liberal viewpoint in his articles.

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