The legalization of drugs is a very complicated topic, but in this post I only plan to tackle the economic benefits and risks. If I were to try and convince you all on the subject there are many other benefits I would bring up, but that may take 20 pages to do so. It seems unfair to only bring up the economic benefits, because there is so much else that goes into such a thing, but for the sake of my own time and yours, I will focus on what the legalization of drugs can do for the U.S. economy.
The word ‘drugs’ comes with a lot of baggage in a country such as ours. Since Nixon declared the war on drugs in the 60s, and Regan’s second push in the 80s our leaders have done everything in their power to see that drugs, dealers and users are eradicated from our country. After years of anti-drug propaganda, thousands of arrests, the break of up of countless families, and billions of dollars spent (in 2010 alone the federal government spent $15 billion, while states spent another $25 billion) one might think that there has been progress. Unfortunately there has been absolutely no progress, and the end of the war is nowhere in sight, unless the government realizes this is a problem that will not go away. So how do you police a problem such as this? You don’t, we must accept that our societies public health problem (drug addiction) is here to stay, benefit from it economically, and fight our drug problem with education, help and understanding. To me, it is quite easy to see how we can benefit economically. Our country will be spending billions less through imprisonment and policing, the government will make billions through government taxation, and all citizens will benefited through private sector spending and economic stimulus.
The amount of money we spend on incarcerating people for drug related crimes could go to a lot better programs. According to the Hamilton Project at Brookings Institute we spent $80 billion in housing inmates. If you put that together with a 2010 statistic from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of all people in prison were locked up for a drug related crime, that would mean our country could possibly save $40 billion dollars a year. If that money went towards anything but housing prisoners, that would benefit everyone greatly.
Money saved is always a plus, but the government could also make a huge profit on the taxation of drugs. In 2013, The Organization of American States, estimated that the drug trade was worth $34 billion in that year alone. If the government were to put a 10% tax rate on the sale of drugs, that leaves them with at least a profit of $3.4 billion. We can see this in states that legalized marijuana, these states are swimming in cash.
The legalization of drugs seems to fair better for the government, but we as a society will be much better off as well. It’s no secret that the more successful businesses a city has, the better off it is. These new businesses will bring money to their owners, the businesses around them and to the many employees that they will employ. This in turn may even decrease the unemployment rate. This move will also bring in customers that the states haven’t been able to capture, through tourism. Amsterdam and Colorado are just a few places to name, where they are a destination because of their legal stance on marijuana. If all drugs are legal, you can expect people to visit for that reason alone.
If all that still does not have you convinced lets take a look at country that has done something similar. In 2001 after having some of the highest addiction and drug related diseases (STDs and HIV) in the European Union, Portugal decided that anyone caught with anything less than a 10 day supply would be treated through rehab and education and not imprisonment. Portugal has been able to take the money that would have gone towards policing and jailing drug users, and use it for the public good, in systems such as education, schooling, and rehabilitation. All the economic and societal benefit that Portugal has been able to see from this move has only come from drugs only being half way legal. The opportunities could be endless if they were to legalizing drugs all together.
The thought of making something legal that can kill you is a scary thought. I’m not advocating that everyone goes out and tries heroine when drugs are legal, I’m only saying that it’s time to start thinking about whether or not legalizing drugs will be a necessary evil. Like anything else in life, you can’t fix something if it’s already broke, time to come up with a new option.