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Laughable but Widely Cited Report on the Cost of Legalizing Pot Does Not Even Try to Measure the Cost of Legalizing Pot

"For every dollar gained in tax revenue," the Centennial Institute claims, "Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization."

Centennial InstituteCentennial InstituteA new report from Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute claims that "for every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of [marijuana] legalization." That factoid is already showing up in arguments against legalization, even though it is plainly fallacious.

Centennial Institute Director Jeff Hunt, who is also the university's vice president of public policy, takes the approach favored by anti-pot polemicists, conflating correlation with causation and counting every purported cost to which a number can be attached, no matter how implausibly, while ignoring every benefit except for tax revenue and the increased value of Colorado homes since legalization (which suggests the state has not turned into the drug-addled dystopia predicted by prohibitionists).

Most glaringly, as Paul Danish notes in the Boulder Weekly, Hunt et al. make no attempt to isolate the impact of legalization, which is supposed to be the subject of the report. Instead they tote up supposedly marijuana-related costs without regard to whether they were caused by the change in policy the authors claim to be analyzing.

"The figures, even if accurate, represent the economic and social costs of marijuana use," Danish observes. "But the study's supposed purpose is to identify the economic and social costs attributable to marijuana legalization, which are different [from] the overall costs (real, imaginary or theoretical) of marijuana use generally."

In other words, if you assume (as Hunt et al. do) that marijuana makes people fat and lazy, resulting in $54,833,218 in extra health care costs related to "physical inactivity" each year, you need to estimate what share of those fat and lazy potheads would not be consuming cannabis but for legalization. The fact that Hunt does not even make a gesture in that direction says a lot about his analytical rigor and intellectual honesty.

Does marijuana make people fat and lazy? "People who use marijuana more frequently," Hunt et al. say, "tend to be less physically active." They assume the difference is entirely attributable to marijuana use, as opposed to other ways in which people who consume cannabis might be different, on average, from people who don't. That is like observing that fans of professional wrestling are fatter than people who have never heard of Kenny Omega (I have no idea whether that is true) and concluding that watching WWE matches makes people fat.

Hunt et al. likewise assume that a correlation between marijuana use and dropping out of high school means that marijuana makes people drop out of high school, even though they note that "these figures do not demonstrate causation." Lost productivity related to dropping out of school, which the report puts at $423,362,337.22 (multiplying "marijuana-related drop-outs" in 2016-17 by $334,716.12, "the cost of not completing high school") is the biggest component of the $1.1 billion annual cost that the Centennial Institute attributes to legalization. It is quite a stretch to count a high school dropout's future loss of income as money "spent" by Coloradans in 2017 to "mitigate the effects of legalization," but that is what Hunt et al. do. And as with "physical inactivity," they do not try to estimate how many of those students would have dropped out even if marijuana had never been legalized, even though the whole point of this exercise is to show what a disaster legalization has been.

The second biggest component of the Centennial Institute's legalization bill is marijuana-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits, which the report says cost $381,915,043 in 2015. The number of these cases did rise following legalization, but it is hard to tell how much of that change represents a real increase in problems caused by cannabis consumption. Now that marijuana is legal, people are probably more willing to admit that they use it (as Hunt et al. concede) and to seek help when they run into trouble. Medical staff may also be more likely to note marijuana use in hospital records. But none of that really matters in the Centennial Institute's analysis, because once again the report looks at the total cost, as opposed to the portion that might plausibly be attributed to legalization.

The same goes for traffic accidents, where Hunt et al. not only assume that marijuana was the cause whenever a driver tested positive for THC, regardless of whether he was actually impaired by it at the time of the crash, but also act as if there were no stoned drivers prior to legalization. Even when spending has declined since legalization, as with marijuana arrests and "treatment for marijuana use disorder," Hunt et al. count the current cost as part of the tab for letting Coloradans use cannabis without a doctor's note.

Hunt claims the report is "fair" and takes "a conservative approach to calculating the costs and fees associated with increased marijuana use." In reality, it does not even attempt to calculate the costs associated with increased marijuana use. At best, it calculates the costs associated with marijuana use, period, and the manner in which it does that will not seem fair to anyone who does not already agree with Hunt that legalization is a huge mistake.

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  • Eddy||

    The important thing is to come up with some figures, never mind how you got them.

    What will stick in the mind better, the scary numbers or the fact that the numbers are BS?

  • Juice||

    *opens overcoat*
    Hey man, lookin' fer some plastic straws?

  • bevis the lumberjack||

    You laugh now, but just you wait. The Mexican cartels are gonna start smuggling straws across our southern border. When the Straw Cartel violence starts happening in Arizona cities, we'll see who's laughing then.

  • Eddy||

    "Put your overcoat back on, honey, that straw isn't environmentally friendly."

  • Rich||

    if you assume (as Hunt et al. do) that marijuana makes people fat and lazy, resulting in $54,833,218 in extra health care costs related to "physical inactivity" each year

    Oh, FFS! Apparently marijuana *does* make some people stupid.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    But have they measured the increase in chill?

  • DenverJ||

    Yo, baby

  • bevis the lumberjack||

    From the Colorado Dept of Education, here are the historical Colorado high school dropout rates:

    2006-2007 4.4%
    2007-2008 3.8%
    2008-2009 3.6%
    2009-2010 3.1%
    2010-2011 3.0%
    2011-2012 2.9%
    2012-2013 2.5%
    2013-2014 2.4%
    2014-2015 2.5%
    2015-2016 2.3%
    2016-2017 2.3%

    Full legalization in Colorado started in 2014, so it's impossible to even argue that legalization had any impact on the dropout rate. Since "marijuana-related dropouts" = zero, the biggest cost cited in this study goes up in smoke. Get it? Up in smoke?

  • Trollificus||

    I get it, I see what you did thar. It's like, up in smoke like the...uh...lolwut?

  • Longtobefree||

    Now I know where the researchers to stupid to milk the climate change funding cow wind up.

  • Longtobefree||

    The cost of legalizing pot;
    The AG realizes that marijuana has legitimate medicinal uses, and removes it from schedule one. (20 minutes, tops) Every federal cop in the country realizes it is no longer profitable in dollars or career progression to go after pot users. (45 seconds tops). So maybe a couple thousand dollars in federal employee wages. That is the cost.

  • JSR2||

    You're forgetting the cost of giving early retirement to drug-sniffing dogs.

  • Wizard4169||

    Retirement? No, we'll have to put the poor fellows down. Why do you want to kill dogs? (No, seriously, someone actually made that argument.)

  • Rockabilly||

    My marijuana is untaxed and unregulated.

    This makes the Rev Arthur Kirkland very mad because he wants everything to be taxed and regulated.

    ahahahahahahaaa

  • SIV||

    "People who use marijuana more frequently," Hunt et al. say, "tend to be less physically active."

    More Millennial and Gen-Z (or whatever) FAIL. Back in my day, dopers played Ultimate Frisbee and rode skateboards and bikes.

  • Conchfritters||

    Fuck, I know three marathon runners who only run if they are stoned off their asses.

  • operagost||

    That sounds like a lot of fun, to be honest.

  • Eman||

    I can't be the only commenter who's ever seen Joe Rogan's show..

  • DenverJ||

    WWE does make people fat.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute

    Wow, going with the C list these days are we?

  • Drake||

    Oh, they may openly note that "these figures do not demonstrate causation", but that's not gonna stop them. They're not concerned about the truth; they have a crusade to wage. That's all that matters. ;)

  • Echospinner||

    Reminds me of a funny story

    Bono is giving a concert. He stops singing and begins to slowly clap his hands.

    He says into the microphone "You know every time I clap my hands a child in Africa dies of starvation or malaria"

    A guy gets up and yells "well stop doing it you sick bastard!"

  • Longtobefree||

    Beautiful.
    And did Bono explain that malaria is still a killer in Africa because people like him got DDT banned so a few eagles could avoid Darwin, at the cost of thousands of children dying?
    Didn't think so.

  • IceTrey||

    They forgot to include the worth of increased human liberty, priceless.

  • creech||

    Yeah, if they are going to ignore the psychic pleasure people get from things, then let's measure the negative cost of church attendance (how many traffic accidents going to or from?), opera (sitting on your fat ass for two hours listening to songs in a language you don't speak) or amusement parks (you could be burning calories mountain climbing instead of taking selfies with a guy dressed as a mouse).

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, maybe.
    It turns out the damn mouse own all of the mountains in Florida, so you kind of have to pay him to climb a mountain.

  • Conchfritters||

    I thought the Matterhorn was at Disney in LA?

  • Longtobefree||

    It is.
    But California has real mountains made by God or time, as you wish. Florida not so much.
    Disney World has Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and The Matterhorn. Other than that, the interstate overpasses are the highest things in the state except buildings.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Let's go all out and measure the cost of religion.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Salon is really upset that Ayn Rand book sales--over a hundred thousand a year at all times--suddenly increased with the George Waffen Bush faith-based asset-forfeiture Crash and Depression. Ayn married Frank the year Republican Herbert Hoover took over enforcing the 5 law making beer a shoot-first felony. Immediately customs agents murdered innocent Henry Virkula from behind in the presence of his wife and children. Aurora housewife Lilian DeKing was murdered at home by local law enforcement and the Coast Guard attacked and sunk the Canadian "I'm Alone" in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, killing a crewman. Call money rates leapt to 20% when Al Capone was summoned before a Grand Jury the first month of Hoover's term. Prohibition (not The Fed) caused the Stock Market Crash reported in the news in March of 1929. By 1932 Frank O'Connor appeared in a pre-code movie in which alcohol Prohibition, drug Prohibition and the Depression were a golden braid. The George Bush crashes of 1987, 1992 and 2007 were all about how coercive mysticism wrecks the economy.

  • dpbisme||

    Hummm, I have no clue as to the study but this Author had an axe to grind.

    I think Dope should be legal because a freeman/person has a right to do as they wish as long as they are not hurting anyone else.

  • Trollificus||

    The arena in which the Centennial Institute is presenting this bullshit as "research" is not even visible from the arena in which one would argue from natural individual rights.

  • Trollificus||

    When this Hunt guy says the report takes "a conservative approach to calculating the costs and fees associated with increased marijuana use.", he must mean they conserved wear and tear on neurons by avoiding excessive use of logic or reason.

    That or he has found a novel usage for the word "conservative".

  • Eddy||

    The kind of conservative that looks at the drug policies of Wilson, FDR, Nixon and Reagan and says "now *there's* a sound conservative heritage to defend!"

  • VOTE MILES||

    That or he has found a novel usage for the word "conservative"

    No, it's shorthand for "Christian Conservative". He's taking a Christian Conservative approach to calculating the cost of the Devil's weed. In a different context, we could call it a very Orthodox approach. His math is more Fundamentalist than fundamental.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Colorado Christian University's Centennial Institute's Jeff Hunt should DIAF. He has his head so far up his ass that he shits out of his mouth. Suck on a shotgun barrel, please.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Better yet, nail him to a cross. Win-win.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Since this dumbass decided to add up costs wily-nilly with zero regard for any statistical rigor, I wonder if he included the cost of all the lubricant required to remove the giant stick up his ass and the asses of nanny-statists like him.

  • Intelligent Mr Toad||

    RE: "Does marijuana make people fat and lazy? "People who use marijuana more frequently," Hunt et al. say, "tend to be less physically active." They assume the difference is entirely attributable to marijuana use, as opposed to other ways in which people who consume cannabis might be different, on average, from people who don't."

    I used to think that correlation implied causation. Then I took a course in statistics. Now I know that correlation does not imply causation! So taking the course helped me -- maybe.

  • Hank Phillips||

    So how did "All men are mortal"--once a hearsay assertion--grow up to become a true premise?

  • MoreFreedom||

    All this does for me is show how dishonest the Centennial Institute is. I wonder if the people who fund it know what they're paying for.

    These social conservatives are just like liberals. They want government used to control people and keep them from pursuing their happiness, when they are offended by that happiness (even when that happiness doesn't harm others). It's just that social conservatives and liberals have very different ideas about what's offensive. They need to learn they can't have freedom unless they're first willing to give it to others.

  • Wizard4169||

    All this does for me is show how dishonest the Centennial Institute is. I wonder if the people who fund it know what they're paying for.


    Yes, they know they're paying for "research" that backs up their prejudices. So I'm sure they feel this one was money well spent.

  • cpreston||

    Does the report try to take into account any changes in law enforcement activities and costs related to prosecuting marijuana offenses?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    So the anti-drug people are lying. Again.

    Ho hum.

    Let's face it, both sides of the legalization debate lie like rugs. Pot is a vice. It harms people. Of course they are the kind of people who will flush their lives down some sewer anyway, for the most part, and they are, on average, better company than Prohibitionists. And using the power of the State to save people from themselves is a mug's game anyway.

    Legalizing Pot is not going to bring with it all kinds of miracle cures. Some people will live marginally better lives because pot, or the compounds in it, alleviate some of their symptoms. OTOH, we tried having pot illegal, and it was a mess. And that's the bottom line.

    The real reason to legalize Pot (and opiates, and cocaine, and probably everything else) is that prohibiting it doesn't flipping WORK. And trying to costs. It cost a lot of money. It costs the lives of people jailed for 'possession' of something that grows like dandelions all over North America. It costs those of us who are NOT users the civil right to not have our doors kicked in at 3 o'clock in the morning by some imbecile who thinks he's Elliot Ness....and who has the wrong address. We probably can't make the Law n Order types go back to knocking politely and presenting warrants, in daylight hours. But we could try.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Stay tuned for another Dana Farnsworth to prophesy that hemp "could" (unlike its replacement Thalidomide) cause insanity, and damage chromiums and peer-reviewed papers from Oral Roberts University proving 97% of Creation Scientists believe merry-jew wanna is the Assassin of Youth. So what about people killed to enforce prohibition laws? What about the Crash and Depression--at the very least Flash Crashes--following every major push to use asset-forfeiture looting to Keep America Teetotalitarian? Surely there's some cost in there somewhere?

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