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The Expensive War On Drugs
How much does the criminalization of pot cost? Billions, writes Rob Kampia. And it has yet to curb pot use:

Last year, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that the federal government spends about $2.4 billion annually on enforcing anti-marijuana laws, which is on top of about $5.3 billion that local and state governments spend annually. Under prohibition, we also forgo the roughly $6.2 billion in tax revenues that Prof. Miron says would be generated if marijuana were regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco.

But that's only part of the cost of marijuana prohibition. The federal government has spent over $1 billion since 1998 on TV, radio and print anti-drug ads that have focused overwhelmingly on marijuana, often neglecting far more dangerous drugs like methamphetamine. And the government spends millions of additional dollars conducting and publicizing research that's designed to justify marijuana prohibition -- and an unknown amount campaigning against state and local efforts to reform marijuana laws.

The goal of all this is to choke off the marijuana supply and put a stop to marijuana use. Are we getting our money's worth?

In a word, no.

According to the U.S. Justice Department's 2006 National Drug Threat Assessment report, "Marijuana availability is high and stable or increasing slightly." In another recent federal government survey, 86 percent of high school seniors said that marijuana was "easy to get" -- a figure that has remained virtually constant since 1975.

All this, despite an all-time record marijuana "eradication" campaign in 2005, with over four million plants seized. Marijuana arrests have also set a record: 771,984 in one year. That's the equivalent of arresting every man, woman and child in the state of Wyoming plus St. Paul, Minnesota -- every year.

By cherry-picking the most favorable statistics, the White House has tried to convince us that marijuana use has dropped in a big way, but this simply isn't so.

Although changes in survey methodology make direct comparisons difficult, the latest edition of the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health, released last September, reports a higher percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds using marijuana at least monthly than when President Nixon first declared a "war on drugs" in 1971. The number of Americans who admit to having tried marijuana has reached an all-time record -- nearly 100 million.

Nearly 15 million say they use marijuana at least monthly. That's more people than attend all college and professional football games in a typical month, more than three times as many as buy Apple's red-hot iPod in a month, and eight times as many as attend rock concerts in a month.

Then think about all the lives that are ruined or compromised -- not because a person is some hopeless, gutter-dwelling junkie -- but because they get caught with a joint instead of a martini.

Posted by aalkon at April 14, 2006 7:42 AM

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I hate reading essays like Kampia's. They make me look like such a freakin' idiot.


John Walters and the Czars

Posted by: SteveHeath at April 14, 2006 9:05 PM

And on a more serious note (why not?), we note with optimism that the percentage of Americans supporting continued criminal Prohibition of marijuana shrinks with each passing week since the information flow of the Net has helped us turn the media away from swallowing ONDCP spoon-fed "Facts About Pot".

When MAPinc first started tracking newspaper coverage of drug policy issues in 1996, it is reasonable to say that about 75% of editorial and OPED comment was in favor of maintaining the status quo on all forms of drug prohibition. 10-15% opted for reform at one or more levels and the remainder ignored the topic.

Ten years later, in 2006, our tracking - which is of course even more complete thanks to the help of so many friends and volunteers across North America and worldwide - shows an almost directly inverse ratio. It's just a very small sampling of newspaper editorial boards and mainstream OPED writers who endorse the continuation of zero tolerance drug war and 3/4 of papers are calling for reform in a variety of heretofore unchangeable attitudes on public drug policy responses.

Thanks for helping spread the common sense alternative info, Amy.

Posted by: SteveHeath at April 14, 2006 9:16 PM

If we legalized drugs and spent a tiny fraction of what the "war on drugs" costs for educating people about abuse and treating addicts, we'd simultaneously save billions and cut the legs out from under drug cartels and gangs. We'd also have a huge new tax base (sales taxes on drug sales and income taxes on the businesses involved), the ability to quality-control (no more adulterants killing junkies) and ripple economic effects in areas like advertising and distribution.

I wouldn't limit it to pot either. If you can use cocaine or heroin in a recreational way, I don't think the government has any business telling you that you can't.

This wouldn't mean we can't regulate drug use at all - we can and should prohibit use by minors, and we can still criminalize things like driving under the influence, or neglecting or harming your kids because of drug use.

But of course, this is too logical for the Puritanical government officials - after all, we'd be CONDONING DRUG USE! As if we don't do this already - just limited to certain drugs that are more culturally acceptable than others.

Posted by: Melissa at April 18, 2006 9:51 PM

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