How many billions? Last year, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that the federal government spends about $2.4 billion annually on enforcing anti-marijuana laws, which is on top of about $5.3 billion that local and state governments spend annually. Under prohibition, we also forgo the roughly $6.2 billion in tax revenues that Prof. Miron says would be generated if marijuana were regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco.
But that’s only part of the cost of marijuana prohibition. The federal government has spent over $1 billion since 1998 on TV, radio and print anti-drug ads that have focused overwhelmingly on marijuana, often neglecting far more dangerous drugs like methamphetamine. And the government spends millions of additional dollars conducting and publicizing research that’s designed to justify marijuana prohibition — and an unknown amount campaigning against state and local efforts to reform marijuana laws.
He asked if we were getting our money’s worth and then provided data which indicates that these programs have had no effect on the availability of marijuana. While I don’t smoke it, the last time I checked it was almost as easy to score some weed as it is for a porn queen to score in a room filled with drunken sailors. Then he hit one area where the government has been effective:
All this, despite an all-time record marijuana “eradication” campaign in 2005, with over four million plants seized. Marijuana arrests have also set a record: 771,984 in one year. That’s the equivalent of arresting every man, woman and child in the state of Wyoming plus St. Paul, Minnesota — every year.
So we are spending our tax dollars on a failed program which throws an entire state into jail each year? Seems pretty bass-ackwards, too me.