The price of prohibition
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on July 21, 2005.
A Catholic, an atheist, and a leftist walk into a Boulder bar. There's no punch line, but the three laugh in memory of the ridiculous, freedom-sucking prohibition laws on gardening and consuming a particular herb. The three could be writers from Boulder Weekly in the not-too-distant future. Hell, the bar might even sell the herb (though I'll still stick with the drug alcohol).
As Wayne Laugesen recently reminded us, a "report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that 10.33 percent of Boulder County respondents admitted to pot use in the past month." Colorado's state average was 7.89 percent. In the eyes of Colorado law, all of those people are criminals. Any legal system that turns so high a fraction of the population into criminals is unstable, unjust and open to constant abuse.
Such a system is also expensive. In a recent televised debate, Governor Bill Owens, who, you may recall, supported one of the world's largest drug manufacturers for U.S. Senate last year, claimed, "We're in a real crisis in the state of Colorado." Owens, along with many Democrats and some other sellout Republicans, are asking Colorado taxpayers to fork over an estimated $3.1 billion over the next five years, on top of already-scheduled budget increases.
When you walk into the voting booth come November, just remember that the state and local governments of Colorado spend $64 million every year to turn nearly a tenth of the population into criminals. Not real criminals, who actually hurt other people or their property, but criminals in name only, gardeners and herb users who have done nothing wrong. You pay government in Colorado to harass, arrest, prosecute, force into "treatment," lock away, fine or threaten a tenth of your neighbors. Handing these politicians even more of your money will only encourage them to avoid cutting wasteful programs, such as marijuana prohibition.
According to a study by economist Jeffrey Miron, a visiting professor at Harvard, the state and local governments also lose an estimated $17.6 million in tax revenue because marijuana is not taxed, for a net loss of $81.6 million every year (see www.prohibitioncosts.org). Currently, government collects tax revenues from the sale of the drug alcohol. Alcohol is so politically correct that your tax dollars subsidized part of a half-million dollar liquor tab for the University of Colorado, according to a report by the Rocky Mountain News.
Yet, as Jim Kouri, Vice President of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, wrote recently for MensNewsDaily.com, "Although alcohol consumption and alcohol-related deaths are in decline, alcohol abuse is still linked to a large percentage of criminal offenses, according to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Almost four in 10 violent crimes involve alcohol, according to the crime victims, as do four in 10 fatal motor vehicle accidents. And about four in 10 criminal offenders report that they were using alcohol at the time of their offense."
And, according to the Centers for Disease Control, "In 2001, an estimated 75,766 [alcohol-attributable deaths] and 2.3 million [years of potential life lost] were attributable to the harmful effects of excessive alcohol use" in the U.S.
If marijuana should be prohibited, then it is even more important to prohibit the drug alcohol. Those who argue alcohol should be legal must, unless they are hypocrites, make the same case for marijuana. (By the way, most of the adverse health consequences associated with marijuana can be eliminated by consuming it in a way other than smoking.) If marijuana is a "gateway drug," then so is alcohol. However, only a small fraction of people who use marijuana or alcohol go on to use drugs like cocaine, and one doesn't cause the other.
Of course, some funds would still be spent to enforce laws against endangering minors with alcohol or marijuana.
A release regarding Miron's report notes it "estimates that replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcoholic beverages would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 billion and $14 billion per year. In response, a group of more than 500 distinguished economists -- led by Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Milton Friedman -- released an open letter to President Bush and other public officials calling for 'an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition,' adding, 'We believe such a debate will favor a regime in which marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods.'"
Changing Colorado's laws would save money -- and increase liberty -- regardless of what the national government does. However, as the Denver Post noted, medical marijuana users "should know they could still face federal charges, the state attorney general said. The state health department, which oversees the medical marijuana registry, is composing a warning to let people who apply for the registry know that, said spokeswoman Cindy Parmenter."
For national politicians and police forces to violate Colorado law and the federalist guarantees of the U.S. Constitution is offensive enough. For them to do it to punish the sick is disgusting.
Coloradans concerned about justice, liberty and fiscal responsibility must demand that Colorado politicians fight to protect the rights of Coloradans against legal abuse. Friedman and Miron are right.