Drug Legalization

Legalizing All Drugs Would Boost Local, State, Federal Budgets

A new study shows that over $106 billion could be added to the government's budget if drugs are legalized.

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Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Newscom

Federal, state, and local governments could save billions of dollars by doing nothing—that is, by ending drug prohibition and no longer spending money fighting the war on drugs.

So says a new study from Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist and the director of economic studies at the Cato Institute. Drug prohibition is enormously expensive, and Miron finds that full legalization could leave over $106 billion in the government's coffers. State and local governments spend $29.37 billion on prohibition efforts, and the federal government spends another $18.47 billion. Meanwhile, Miron calculates that a legal drug trade could bring in additional tax revenues of $58.81 billion.

If anything, that understates the potential economic gains. There's more to the economy than government budgets, after all. About 789,800 Americans are currently locked up for drug-related offenses. Putting those people back into the workforce would surely catalyze economic growth.

The tide has already turned on pot prohibition. A Pew poll this year showed that 61 percent of America now supports the legalization of marijuana, up from 16 percent just three decades ago. But the "majority of budgetary gains," writes Miron, "would likely come from legalizing heroin and cocaine." The war on drugs involves much more than marijuana, and we can't stop with cannabis. Drug prohibition doesn't just lead to unquantifiable amounts of injustice—it's simply too expensive to continue.

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  1. The all-time WORST reason to legalize drugs.

    1. I thought that at first, but if you read the article it has less to do with revenues raised from taxing drugs and more to do with the cost savings of not enforcing existing drug laws.

      1. The study says that, I mean

        1. “The study says that, I mean”

          OK, but ANY increase in gov’t budgets gives them the means to further screw with the people.

          1. Worse than locking them up?

          2. So don’t worry about cutting spending, because it just gives the government opportunity, right?

            I think if Reagan, Bush, and Trump have taught us anything, budget deficits are no impediment to expanding government.

    2. Beat me to it. I thought they’d found the only argument for liberty that I could not get behind.

      “Well, shit. Now I don’t want freedom.”

    3. Yep, true. I betcha the enforcement savings won’t materialize on anything like the scale described. They will re purpose those guys to do something else, and the bulk of the costs will remain.

      1. They will re purpose those guys to do something else

        “Sex Trafficking.”

        1. Heh, plus I hear those cigarettes sold as singles are a menace…

    4. It may not be a good reason, but it is an easier sell. It’s also a reason that can be used in conjunction with others reasons (like reduced OD risk because it’s now aboveboard instead of black market) or to make paying for perceived consequences (expanded rehab costs) that can make the end of prohibition more palatable.

      As far as taxes being a reason to screw with people…I’ll take a sales tax over trigger-happy beat cops anyday.

      1. You aren’t wrong. So often, I get sucked into justifying L ideas/policies by arguing for their net societal benefits…deep down of course, I pretty much feel they are justified from a “none of your goddamn business, leave me alone” standpoint.

        Problem is people often don’t respond to that, so we’ll probably need to argue it from every angle.

        If we ever do decriminalize, I don’t think it will happen like Marijuana. I don’t think the harder drugs will ever be normalized with fun loving antics in movies, or Joe Rogan doing podcasts high. We’ll be pointing to Portugal a lot and saying “see the world didn’t end”.

  2. Maybe the media can reinforce how ex-cops and ex-media people, need to learn how to code.

  3. Putting drug warriors out of business may be the next great accomplishment of America’s great liberal-libertarian alliance. Promoting freedom, generating good economic activity and tax revenue, reducing abusive policing, avoiding imprisonment on paltry morals raps, reducing crime, requiring the jerks who work as drug warriors to try to find decent livelihoods for once in their objectionable lives. . . this could be as important as curbing government mistreatment of gays, ridding schools of religion, vindicating voting rights, diminishing racism in our society, improving access to health care, improving our environment, and similar elements of American progress from my lifetime.

    1. “Promoting freedom” and “tax revenue”.

      Does not compute, you bitter clinger

    2. “…generating […] tax revenue,…”
      Asshole, here, claims to be ‘libertarian’.

    3. They’re already converting over the Drug Warriors to fight “human trafficking.”

    4. So Dumbass says that decreasing government overreach on drugs has the upside that it enables government overreach in many other areas. Dumbass claims to also be libertarian. Well, dumbass hyphenated the castigated word liberal first. At least we know which practice of thought is preferred.

      Fuck off, authoritarian slaver asshat.

  4. End the Controlled Substances Act because its unconstitutional.

    Even the Prohibitionists knew that they needed the 19th Amendment to ban alcohol, otherwise a Congressional ban would have been illegal.

    1. Because of the Lochner decisions, which have all been overruled.

      1. Do you mean Wickard?

        1. No. That was much later.

    2. Hmm. The 18th amendment refers to the federal and state governments being able to prohibit “intoxicating liquors.” That somehow translated into all alcoholic beverages, but it’s a pretty general and vague term. Beer and wine were included even though they are never referred to as liquors, apparently meaning that the term liquors was taken to refer to liquids. Also, it never specifies ethanol or any alcohol. The 21st amendment repealed the 18th, so the states and feds are explicitly barred from prohibiting “intoxicating liquors.” One could make a case that the feds and the states have been violating the 21st amendment this whole time by banning liquids that could intoxicate someone. So that would include things like hash oil, CBD oil, cocaine solutions, opioid tinctures, you name it. Has anyone ever tried this argument in court?

      1. Yeah sorry 18A.

      2. The 21st explicitly allowed state prohibition and criminalized violation of those state prohibitions. It explicitly barred nothing. It just said the 18th is repealed, and it’s prohibited to transport or import alcohol into any state, territory, or possession that bans it.

        1. Nothing in the US or state constitutions allows for banning any products or services.

          The 21st Amendment just repealed the 18th Amendment and set alcohol back to legal under the Constitution.

          The states would have had to alter their state constitutions to ban alcohol. The Lefties knew that didnt work so they looked to regulate alcohol out of existence. Then drugs became more popular so they did the same thing to drugs.

          Now Americans are fighting back with drugs, so Lefties have moved on to straws.

  5. Federal, state, and local governments could save billions of dollars by doing nothing…

    And if it was their money, it might actually mean something to them to do so.

    1. “Drug prohibition doesn’t just lead to unquantifiable amounts of injustice?it’s simply too expensive to continue…but but but if not for the children in which case there is no deficit too large or injustice too tyrannical.

  6. The biggest problem is stupid, irresponsible people. Laws have to treat everyone equally. So laws designed to keep stupid people from doing stupid things penalize responsible people who don’t do stupid things. Plenty of responsible people use drugs without overdosing, going broke, or otherwise ruining their lives. But they can’t be treated any differently. Same with distracted driving.

    1. We’ll light on the perfect way to have inflexible rules that apply uniformly to 330 million unique individuals in different circumstances, any second now.

    2. Why are there laws that (supposedly) prevent (supposedly) stupid people from doing (supposedly) stupid things?

      1. Because it’s not the fault of those people, it’s the fault of the things, therefore the people must be punished.

        1. If it saves only one…..

  7. “Even the Prohibitionists knew that they needed the 19th Amendment to ban alcohol, otherwise a Congressional ban would have been illegal.”

    A quintessential example of why there is always a clamor, from our elected betters, about how precedent must be respected when appointing judges.

  8. The War on Drugs is over. Drugs won.

    Now it’s time to erect a Drug War Crimes Tribunal in the open fields outside Nuremberg, Pennsylvania. Twenty wood chippers, no waiting.

    1. I’ll buy the diesel to run the chippers.

  9. Are you kidding me.

    Jesus. I’m not that harsh on Reason like a lot of commenters here but “hey we can tax it!” is just progressive bullshit in disguise.

    I’ve been hearing “we can tax it” from self-described liberals my whole adult life.

    1. Trade-offs. You sell your product by explaining how it benefits your customer to buy it. You’re not going to sell it by appealing to the principle that liberty includes the freedom to do stupid things and things you personally find distasteful, few people’s principles are that broad and those few are already libertarian. So you sell it with the idea that the less money you spend on drug prohibition, the more money there is for other, more important, government programs. But at the same time you’re working on getting drugs legalized, you keep chipping away at the idea that more government money ever solves anything.

  10. If we legalize drugs, we’re going to have to reform the tort system, or else we’re going to have an endless supply of lawsuits from addicts claiming the manufacturer “manipulated” levels of whatever psych-active ingredient they ingested.

    The result will be to drive legal drugs from the marketplace and we’ll be back to the black market where we started.

  11. Nice idea but not gonna happen in my lifetime because too many people are making too much money off the current system.

  12. Legalize the purchase of any drug… Some of course would be restricted to adults and would have to be signed for. The savings will be far higher than most people think. Without prescription laws primary care doctors (who currently have patient visits far more than needed for treating common chronic conditions) would be one of the major income losers in such a system. No doubt the AMA (union for doctors) would be opposed to repeal because it would destroy one of the major medical monopolies that doctors find so profitable.

  13. If this were ever a winning argument, we would never have gotten such prohibition. We got legal pot because people decided using it wasn’t bad (& could make some people healthier) & wasn’t limited to “those people”. To get legal heroin we’re going to have to get the same change in assessment. Heroin’s banned because people are willing to sacrifice mucho $ & lives to maintain the ban.

    1. People would think, $100B, that’s all? We can afford to ban a lot more things, let’s get to it!

  14. Heroin = diacetyl-morphine…diamorphine…a legal drug in many countries. It is the clandestinely produced drugs, especially Fentanyl, that are killing people! Continuing the drug war , in view of its massive failure, is insanity…TO THE MAX!

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