Joe Klein: Why Legalizing Marijuana Makes Sense

Joe Klein gives the arguments for legalization of marijuana:

As Webb pointed out in a cover story in Parade magazine, the U.S. is, by far, the most “criminal” country in the world, with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. We spend $68 billion per year on corrections, and one-third of those being corrected are serving time for nonviolent drug crimes. We spend about $150 billion on policing and courts, and 47.5% of all arrests are marijuana-related. That is an awful lot of money, most of it nonfederal, that could be spent on better schools or infrastructure — or simply returned to the public. (See the top 10 ballot measures.)

At the same time, there is an enormous potential windfall in the taxation of marijuana. It is estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual revenues approaching $14 billion. A 10% pot tax would yield $1.4 billion in California alone. And that’s probably a fraction of the revenues that would be available — and of the economic impact, with thousands of new jobs in agriculture, packaging, marketing and advertising. A veritable marijuana economic-stimulus package! (Read: “Is Pot Good For You?”)

So why not do it? There are serious moral arguments, both secular and religious. There are those who believe — with some good reason — that the accretion of legalized vices is debilitating, that we are a less virtuous society since gambling spilled out from Las Vegas to “riverboats” and state lotteries across the country. There is a medical argument, though not a very convincing one: alcohol is more dangerous in a variety of ways, including the tendency of some drunks to get violent. One could argue that the abuse of McDonald’s has a greater potential health-care cost than the abuse of marijuana. (Although it’s true that with legalization, those two might not be unrelated.) Obviously, marijuana can be abused. But the costs of criminalization have proved to be enormous, perhaps unsustainable. Would legalization be any worse?


  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    I find the moral argument unconvincing, because I am entirely unconvinced that prohibition restrains vice in any way. Certainly we have more violent, drug related crime now than we did in 1900 when heroin was in toothache drops, legally, and cocaine was in Coca Cola. Both were legal. In that sense, ending the drug war would not be ‘legalizing vices’ but removing an artificial criminalization imposed relatively recently in history.

  2. 2
    DrToketee says:

    What was completely omitted here is that the Feds make no distinction in legality between marijuana and hemp, the latter having no intoxification effect whatsoever. Yet hemp can be a huge self-sustainable green product in our country and can be processed to make many, many products. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year spraying to irradicate hemp plants – both wild and domesticated – because of these stupid drug laws.  Yet instead we IMPORT hemp – which is legal – to make various products! Here’s an obvious stupidity for Obama to fix – he claims we should be moving to green manufacturing, but so far has done nothing to correct this incredible nonsense about hemp.

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The scientific stupidity of the hemp policy is hard to forgive, as well. The hemp policy is based on the theory that people will hide marijuana in hemp fields. The problem with that is that marijuana and hemp cross germinate… if you plant a marijuana plant in a hemp field, it germinates with the hemp and becomes hemp.

  4. 4
    Heresiarch says:

    There is no moral dimension that does not apply equally to booze or other drugs.  The dirty little secret about all this is that, by any clinical measure of drug toxicity, Cannabis is way safer than any number of commonly consumed, legal drugs.

  5. 5 says:

    To lower gang violence, increase drug awareness, raise tax money, and free our citizens…marijuana should be legal. How are cigarettes legal given what they do to your body?

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