Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Show Me The Money

One of the major factors contributing to the continuation of the war on drugs is money. (There are a few others, but I’ll save those for another day.) No matter what else you might think or say about the war on drugs, you would have to admit that it supports a pretty significant chunk of our economy. This year alone, the federal government will spend over $20 billion on it in this country and almost that much in other countries. You can add to that the $30 billion that will be spent by individual states. Much of that goes to law enforcement, making it possible to arrest about a million people this year for marijuana alone. And another significant portion goes to building prisons and housing all of those drug offenders. And let’s not forget the “aid” we give to foreign countries to help them combat drug trafficking. No matter how you look at it, $70 billion is a pretty good chunk of change. No doubt, a lot of people’s lives would be impacted financially by an end to the war on drugs. Of course a lot of people’s lives are being impacted now, but in a way much worse than the loss of a job. So I believe a change is needed. And the only way something so big will ever change is if it is economically feasible. I think it can be.

Consider the fact that marijuana is currently the fourth largest cash crop in the U.S. It is the number one cash crop in 10 states, and among the top 5 in 29 others. That’s in spite of all the money that’s been spent over the last 70 years trying to eradicate it. Just imagine the economic potential of legal marijuana. And then there’s hemp, which also has the potential to be a major cash crop in this country. Lots of jobs would be created just in agriculture alone. There would also be a number of related industries created to process the crops. Hemp in particular would require a variety of manufacturing capabilities, creating more jobs.

Some argue that the pharmaceutical companies don’t want marijuana legalized because they would lose business to an easy-to-grow medicine. That may be true to some extent, but they are not making any money on marijuana now, so the only real loss would be if it became preferred over current drugs. I don’t really see this as a problem though, since nothing would prevent the pharmaceutical companies from producing and selling marijuana themselves. They’re already developing synthetic marijuana-based drugs, so why not include the real (i.e., natural) thing? I think the vast majority of people would prefer to get their medicine from a “reputable” company that assures quality control, rather than going to the trouble of growing it themselves or buying it “on the street”. That is, if the price from these reputable dealers is reasonable. After all, the ease with which tomatoes can be grown at home has not wiped out the commercial tomato industry. So it seems to me that pharmaceutical companies would be the most logical manufacturers and distributors of medical marijuana, and that there should be a fair amount of money to be made from that business.

As far as recreational marijuana, it seems to me the logical choice is the tobacco industry. In fact I can’t understand why, with all the concern about the health hazards of tobacco these days, that the tobacco industry isn’t lobbying hard for the legalization of marijuana (I’m assuming they’re not since they have a way of getting what they want). They already have a lot of the expertise and infrastructure in place. Growing and distributing recreational marijuana should be a no-brainer for the tobacco industry. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up making them more money than tobacco. And just think of all the great advertising we’d get to see. Something like this maybe?

And finally, there’s the government’s cash flow problems. Perhaps you’ve heard of a little thing called the national debt? (Don’t get me started on that.) Rather than spending money, the government would be making money in the form of new taxes. I don’t think you have to be an economist to know that spending less and taking in more is the only way to reduce a debt. And I think a net annual gain for the government of a few hundred billion would make a significant difference.

So you see, money doesn’t have to be an issue when it comes to ending the war on drugs. Yes, some jobs would be lost, most of those in the law enforcement field. And of course the black market would be impacted, putting a lot of drug dealers and smugglers out of business. But I believe in the long run, far more jobs would be created. And there would be a net gain in government revenue as well. More importantly, the people running our government would also come out ahead. They may lose some “income” from a few special interest groups, but that would quickly be replaced by money from others. So the pockets of our leaders would still be just as stuffed as ever. And when you get right down to it, isn’t that what our government is all about?

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