Lost Taxes and Other Costs of Marijuana Lawsby Jon Gettman 7. Commentary

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The budgetary cost of marijuana laws has been calculated above as $41.8 billion. The social cost consists of the widespread availability of marijuana to adolescents and teens as well as other ramifications of the government’s utter lack of ability to exercise any control over the illicit marijuana market.

The failure to exercise control over the marijuana market through regulatory controls has resulted in many social problems. Discussion of these problems, such as the increasing potency of marijuana presenting increases in risks to adolescent users and increased visits to emergency rooms for marijuana related injuries, the increase in drug treatment referrals for marijuana by the criminal justice system, continued availability of marijuana to middle and high school students, and the increasing number of individuals involved in selling drugs over the last 20 years, are beyond the scope of this report. However, these problems all stem from the failure of current policy. The objective of drug control policies is to control the manufacture, distribution, and availability of drugs. These social problems, some of which are detailed with statistics presented in this report, all indicate a failure to exercise control.

Ironically, these policy failures are often cited by law enforcement as a justification for continuing current policies. Just as the costs of enforcing marijuana laws are cited as a cost of drug abuse rather than public policy, these social problems are misrepresented to the public as evidence that marijuana use requires criminal sanctions rather than regulation. Policy failures brought about by this lack of effective controls is not a valid justification of current policies. The statistical data cited in this report on the supply, availability, use, price, and value of marijuana demonstrate that the amount of lost taxes and other fiscal costs of current policy are increasing and proliferating over time.

The regulation and legalization of marijuana would produce the following benefits:

* Legalization would restore the capital flow in the illegal marijuana market to legitimate and taxable economic channels.

* Legalization would eliminate contemporary criminal justice and border security costs and provide for the reallocation of resources to other pressing drug, immigration, and homeland security problems.

* Legalization would likely deflate teen commerce in marijuana and consequently contribute to a reduction in availability of marijuana to teens and adolescents.

* Legalization would eliminate the flow of considerable capital away from the US economy by contributing to an increase in the amount of marijuana grown in the US for domestic consumption.

* Legalization would shift the fiscal costs related to marijuana use from all taxpayers to marijuana users themselves by way of excise taxes.