Brief Review


Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control, by Mark Kleiman, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 217 pages, $37.95.

The War on Drugs continues to consume billions of dollars in government spending each year. But the ironic result of spending all this money, argues Mark Kleiman, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School, is that government seizures have forced consumers to consume more dangerous drugs than they would have if the government had not started its "war."

In Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control, Kleiman looks at the results of the federal government's efforts to eliminate marijuana production, distribution, and consumption. In fiscal year 1982, Kleiman estimates four federal agencies (the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Customs Service, and the Coast Guard) spent $423 million on antimarijuana efforts (38 percent of overall federal antidrug spending). By fiscal year 1986, Kleiman estimates, the figure had risen to $636 million, consuming about the same percentage of federal time and funds.

But the billions spent by the feds had little effect on checking the marijuana trade. While overall consumption fell by 4 percent, consumers shifted from smoking less potent Latin American dope to more powerful domestic sinsemilla. Sinsemilla prices dropped by 7 percent; imported marijuana prices rose by 6 percent. And despite the efforts of thousands of federal, state, and local dopebusters, Kleiman says, "there does not appear to have been any prolonged or widespread shortages."

Why can't the federal government win the war on marijuana? Kleiman notes that marijuana production and distribution is an extremely decentralized business; federal seizures of large "mother ships" from Colombia have caused the distribution trade to shift to smaller operations in the United States and Mexico. Because the marijuana business comprises many small distributors and growers who will fervently protect their investments—a domestic dope grower who loses his crop can forfeit four to six months' earnings—Kleiman believes that the federal government will never win its war on marijuana.

One hazard created by government prohibitions of the paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana is that the state indirectly encourages the most hazardous forms of dope smoking. Marijuana is a potent carcinogen, with about four times as much cancer-causing tar as cigarettes made from tobacco. Using bongs or water pipes removes these tars, ensuring safer dope smoking. But "antiparaphernalia" laws that prohibit the sale of bongs, Kleiman notes, indirectly encourage marijuana consumers to smoke joints, thus increasing their risks of lung cancer. (Other alleged harmful effects of marijuana, Kleiman adds, such as claims that dope smoking causes chromosome defects or "cerebral atrophy," remain unproven.)