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The Fallacy of Marijuana Prohibition
A Call for Legalization

By Sahand Rabbani


In 1970, the Congress of the United States instated a policy that was fearfully redolent of one that had only decades ago threatened the nation. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 marked not only the official prohibition of most known recreational drugs, but it also represented the federal government's supremacy over the states and the Constitution. Whereas the Eighteenth Amendment's prohibition of alcohol required a two-thirds supermajority of both houses and a three-fourths supermajority of the states, the Controlled Substances Act, far more encompassing in its restrictions, was passed as a mere statute, requiring only a simple majority of our congressmen's votes, with no input from state governments.

By this law, marijuana, hemp, hashish, and any derivative of the Cannabis sativa plant is classified as a Schedule I drug, a distinction earned by the most dangerous and inutile substances. In fact, under subdivision (c) of hallucinogenic substances, marijuana and every other preparation containing any quantity of its active chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are grouped with LSD and other hard drugs. These Schedule I substances purportedly share three characteristics: they have (1) "a high potential for abuse," (2) "no currently accepted medical use," and (3) "a lack of accepted safety for use…under medical supervision."

From that one controversial line identifying THC as a deleterious Schedule I drug was born a multibillion-dollar government crusade in the United States against marijuana. This expensive struggle has fined and imprisoned the very drug users that it had purportedly set out to protect. It has, furthermore, unfairly taxed nonusers and forced hemp farmers to consider alternative crops, creating a detrimental deadweight economic loss. Because the policy of prohibition prematurely denies marijuana any medicinal value in assuming that it is unambiguously harmful, it has restricted scientific research and the practice of medicine while justifying the infringement of certain rights in the name of progress and the wellbeing of society.


Marijuana prohibition is based on principals whose spirit is to place society above the individual. No sane prohibitionist has argued that the marijuana ban augments personal freedom or that it furthers the ideals of individuality. Rather, prohibitionists hold that outlawing marijuana creates a better society as a whole, or, in terms that violate the Euclidean axiom, a sum greater than its parts. This foundation, however, is spurious, if for no other reason than that society cannot be better off when its constituents are worse off. The goal of government policy, therefore, cannot be to ignore the individual at the expense of society, but rather to view society as consisting of discrete, individual parts. It is here where prohibition and the wellbeing of society diverge. The government's deceptive reasoning has led to appalling inconsistencies that are manifested, for one, in the hypocrisy of policymakers.

These politicians, the effective source of anti-drug legislation, are often belligerently and religiously opposed to drug use of any kind, but cannot seem to draw the connection between their own defensible use of marijuana and the public's unethical use. For example, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) recently invigorated its anti-prohibition campaign through a poster advertisement that features New York City's Mayor Bloomberg admitting to having smoked pot: "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it" (Garfield 45). The poster's tagline concludes, "It's NORML to smoke pot." Bloomberg's confession does not, however, reflect his stance on marijuana policy. The mayor has promised, rather quizzically, to crack down on (others') drug use during his term (Orecklin). Under his own policies, Mr. Bloomberg is subject to arrest.

But he is not alone. Many other politicians, among whom are Al Gore, Bill Bradley, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry, and George W. Bush, have either admitted to using marijuana or been unwilling to deny it. All the while, these politicians glorify the war on drugs, implementing or supporting policies that punish drug users (Nadelmann, "An End to Marijuana Prohibition" 1; "Presidential Candidates Fess Up To Prior Use"). This is an unequivocal illustration of the inherent flaws in our oppressive laws. The policymakers' objections to marijuana use are limited to other people, for their shameless confessions are not even qualified by regret. Notably, Newt Gingrich says that smoking pot "was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era," implying that at the time he experimented with the drug, it may have been illegal, but at least it was not immoral (qtd. in "At the Grassroots").

Such hypocrisy alone is enough to call for a reevaluation of this country's current marijuana policy and its true effects on society and the individual. Whereas prohibition is based on moral and salutary grounds, this justification is now obsolete in the modern era of pragmatism and freedom. In the contemporary debate over legalization, the relevance of various arguments developed throughout the centuries becomes a pressing concern. Legalizers, too, have abused the clichés that have characterized the insubstantial arguments of the marijuana debate. Many of them have invoked the authority of Abraham Lincoln: "Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded." These words are insightful and provocative, but there is quite simply no assurance that Lincoln spoke them, as purported, on December 18, 1840, to the Illinois House of Representatives. The Illinois Journal of the House features no excerpts from Lincoln's speech, and trails of citations lead to dead ends. Legalizers, like prohibitionists, have recycled and abused such claims to the point of exhaustion. Such traditional arguments are unproductive and stagnant. Platitudes only further bias and discredit both camps. The marijuana debate is serious and, therefore, requires a serious, thoughtful consideration. It is time for a relevant treatment of the matter.

With a heightened awareness of civil liberties and a constant trend toward secularism and away from traditional Christian ethics, our nation can no longer be content with these archaic reasons. Through a contemporary analysis of pertinent factors, a policy of legalization becomes more urgent. Indeed, a detailed investigation of constitutional law, court cases, scientific research, and statistical economic studies suggests that the conventional noxious perception of marijuana is unfounded and that the overall effects of marijuana prohibition, considered thoroughly, are unnecessarily harmful, calling for the repeal of prohibition laws and the legalization of cannabis and its derivatives.


To understand why the legalization of marijuana is a better alternative, it is first necessary to examine the failures of the current system, characterized by a rhetorical "War on Drugs" that attempts to criminalize and punish both violent and nonviolent offenders of the drug laws. An essential front of this war is the relentless crusade against marijuana that is constantly reinvigorated by the federal government.

Neutral spectators of our endless struggle view the war on drugs, and especially the war on marijuana, as futile and expensive. Britain's Economist magazine opened one of its articles with a scathing criticism: "If you want to see money thrown at a problem to no good effect, you need look no further than America's 'war on drugs.'" The article compares the appropriations for the drug war--some eighteen to nineteen billion dollars from the federal government and another twenty-two billion from the state and local governments--to the Justice Department's total budget of twenty million dollars in 2000 ("First, Inhale Deeply"). As far as the war on marijuana is concerned, the yearly cost of incarcerating sixty thousand offenders is about 1.2 billion dollars ("One Puff At a Time"). There is little doubt that decriminalization or legalization will save money. Estimates suggest that between the year 1976, when California moderately decriminalized marijuana through the Moscone Act, and the year 1988, the state saved about half a billion dollars in arrest costs alone (Nadelmann, "Commonsense Drug Policy" 122).

Though it is expensive to keep marijuana illegal, one must recognize that economic costs are not justification enough to completely reverse a policy. When the costs yield no social benefit, however, it is time to reconsider.

In fact, marijuana laws bare significant social costs. Four hundred and fifty thousand of the two million prisoners in the United States--nearly twenty-five percent--are in jail for drug offenses ("First, Inhale Deeply"). The year 2000 saw 734,497 marijuana-related arrests, more than double the number in 1991. Ninety percent of these arrests were for mere possession of the drug ("On Puff at a Time"). Among the many maladies that result from it, the war on marijuana has turned valuable resources such as law enforcement and funding against nonviolent and otherwise law-abiding citizens, whose jail sentences in turn contribute more problems to society by occupying dwindling prison space that could be used more appropriately to detain real criminals.

The "war on marijuana" is a misnomer. Though a war, its target is not the drug, but rather the innocuous drug users. It is a civil war, waged by the government on its own people. Despite the citizens' response through legal channels such as state initiatives for decriminalization and legalization of medical marijuana, the federal government remains steadfast and undemocratic, suing, for example, an Oakland coop of medicinal marijuana patients. In a similar case, the federal government shook a foreboding finger at California doctors who were counseling their patients on the powers of medicinal pot ("First, Inhale Deeply"). It is evident that as far as the war on drugs is concerned, the government is well aware of, but hardly moved by, the desires of its citizens, endeavoring instead to silence and litigate them.

Not only does the war on marijuana squander citizen's tax dollars, imprison many harmless people, and harass doctors, it has failed to see any improvement in drug abuse. While infamous drug czars such as John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, may claim that "the law itself is our safeguard, and it works" (Walters 42), empirical evidence suggests otherwise. If the war on marijuana has in fact been at least marginally effective, the heavy supply-side emphasis of law enforcement would have reduced availability and driven prices upward. Marijuana prices, however, plummeted from about nine dollars per gram in 1990 to less than five in 1995 (MacCoun 31). A quick quote from the black market will confirm that prices have remained steady since, with a "dime bag" (one-sixteenth of an ounce, equivalent to something between one and a half and two grams) costing about ten dollars. In terms of availability, surveys show that eighty to ninety percent of high school seniors have ready access to marijuana, a figure that has remained steady for almost three decades (MacCoun 32; Earleywine 232). This persistence of relatively low prices suggests that supply is still high, for demand, while harder to measure, has likely not fallen because "estimated consumption has not declined substantially" (MacCoun 31). In fact, even Director John Walters, who claimed that the law "works," has noted that "[i]n several states, marijuana smoking exceeds tobacco smoking among young people" (42). Mr. Walters, like his policymaking colleagues, has contradicted himself.

Because data show that the law does not work, the federal government is forced to resort to drastic measures so that it may preserve its perception of legitimacy. A drug reform coalition consisting of the American Civil Liberties Union and Change the Climate submitted an anti-prohibitionist advertisement to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that featured a horde of ordinary people behind bars. The tagline read, "Marijuana Laws Waste Billions of Taxpayer Dollars to Lock Up Non-Violent Americans." The legal conditions that led to WMATA's refusal to post the ad reflect this most iniquitous feature of the war on drugs: the government's withholding of information that exposes the war's futility.


On February 18, 2004, the drug policy reform coalition filed a law suit against the federal government and WMATA on the grounds that the current policies leading to the refusal of the ad were in violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech. Namely, the allegedly unconstitutional "Istook Amendment" was a rider attached to a 2004 spending bill that denies federal funding to transit authorities who should offer such advertising spots to posters supporting "the legalization or medical use of any substance listed in Schedule I…of the Controlled Substances Act." In the case of WMATA, some eighty-five million dollars of funding were at stake ("ACLU and Drug Policy Groups Sue").

Though the Istook Amendment does not explicitly deny First Amendment rights, it implicitly and effectively does so, for no transit authority that has hitherto relied on tens of millions of dollars of federal funding will jeopardize its appropriations. Since the Istook Amendment restricts speech in a public medium, it is indeed a de facto violation of the Constitution. Moreover, it appropriates one hundred forty-five million dollars for the anti-marijuana campaign (Beiser 47; "ACLU and Drug Policy Groups Sue"). The shameless intentions of the federal government are not subtle.

Director of the ACLU's Drug Litigation Project, Graham Boyd, suggests that "[t]he government does not want the public to know how badly our drug policy has failed, so it is trying to silence Americans who oppose the War on Drugs" (qtd. in "ACLU and Drug Policy Groups Sue"). In other words, the government is endeavoring to maintain public ignorance, concealing the reality of the war on drugs and, especially, marijuana, because of the very tangible fear that the dissemination of the truth will call for reform. Though some sources suggest that Congressman Istook's motivation for sponsoring the amendment stemmed from his annoyance over the banners on the D.C. metro that read "Enjoy better sex! Legalize and tax marijuana" (Beiser), this view of our policymakers would be excessively cynical. Mr. Istook probably shared the same fear as most government officials: the propagation of such (true) information would foster an atmosphere of criticism aimed at the government's nonsensical policy. After all, the facts presented by the ad are true, and when the government is unable to refute them, it hides them for as long as possible. Solicitor General Paul Clement of the U.S. Department of Justice, however, with no "viable argument" to appeal the case initiated by the drug coalition, has effectively struck down the Istook Amendment (Fields).

In fact, the government is finding it progressively more difficult to keep the public in the dark about marijuana and the absurdity of marijuana laws. Reason's Michael Erard demonstrates that the internet has made it nearly impossible to legally and practically restrict information regarding drugs, how and where to acquire them, how to smuggle them, and how to use them. The DEA's declassification of the hitherto exclusive publication Microgram made available to the public a compilation of law enforcement's findings. This drug diary of sorts features creative and surreptitious methods of transporting and selling drugs that the government feared may have inspired more elusive techniques. Microgram's release is significant because it indicates the government's recognition that it has failed to repress drug use by restricting information (Erard).

One notable attempt on the government's part to disenchant young drug users ironically highlights the absurdity of prohibition itself. A series of ads aired a few years ago featured little children admitting to having helped terrorists blow up buildings, acquire forged documents, murder law enforcement officers, and train other children to be terrorists, implying that these activities were supported by the sale of drugs to teens. However substantial the link between domestic drug sale and international terrorism is, it is important to recognize the causality: a legal marijuana market itself is no more likely to fuel terrorists than, say, the market for diapers, for it is prohibition, and not the drug, that fosters an environment conducive to terrorism ("Drug Policy Around the World"). The misleading ads were terminated, as the government's propaganda has become increasingly ineffective.

Though the war on drugs has not succeeded, it has nonetheless endured, and this has been possible only by the government-ensured ignorance of the populace. Judge James P. Gray observes that "our country's drug policy has three prongs: massive prisons, the demonization of drug users, and a refusal to discuss alternatives." He suggests that "once people understand what is really going on, the position of the drug warriors becomes transparently insupportable" (Gray 143). What is really going on, more specifically, is that marijuana prohibition has created a reason and an excuse for the unwarranted alienation of constitutional rights in addition to those delineated in the First Amendment. This infringement can only be eradicated, ipso facto, by the legalization of marijuana.


Judge Gray holds that "[n]othing in the history of the United States of America has eroded the protections of our Bill of Rights nearly as much as our government's War on Drugs" (95). That is not to say that the war on marijuana and other drugs has caused more instantaneous violations of such rights than any other policy in U.S. history, but rather that it has most effectively worn them away in time (96). This is perhaps the most dangerous process by which we forfeit our rights, for it is the subtlest and steadiest. By the time that the extent of these violations has become so great that it is readily noticed, the tradition of oppression is already too deeply rooted in the government's habits. Indeed, this is the present case, for "[o]ur civil rights protections have been demonstrably [italics mine] reduced" due to the war on marijuana and other drugs (96).

Many cases involving civil liberties violations with marijuana entail a breach of the Fourth Amendment right to privacy. In 1984, the Supreme Court heard the case of Oliver v. United States. After police had passed through a locked gate and disobeyed a no-trespassing sign, they stumbled across a portion of Oliver's farm where he was growing cannabis. Oliver was charged and convicted. His case was ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court where the defendant argued that the police had violated his right to privacy. The Court, however, held that the field was not a location that entailed an "expectation of privacy," as it lied outside of the "curtilage" (99). Oliver's situation is by no means unique. Instances of such questionable means of searching abound.

In 1986, for example, the Supreme Court heard the case of California v. Ciraolo. Anonymously tipped off that the defendant was growing marijuana in his backyard, police used an airplane to fly over the defendant's house to take photographs of the small plot, well aware that the completely enclosed area was within this said "curtilage." At an altitude of one thousand feet, the Court held that the search was in fact legitimate (99). The verdicts of both of these cases, coupled with further violations condoned by these very verdicts, significantly compromise the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantee "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures […]."

Even small victories have ultimately ended in defeat. Alaska's case of Ravin v. State (1972)--wherein attorney Irwin Ravin, in an attempt to challenge the law, planned to have himself arrested for possession--resulted in a minor triumph for our right to privacy, but the effects were short-lived. Though decriminalized in 1975, penalties for marijuana possession in Alaska were again imposed in 1990. In 1980, furthermore, the D.C. District Court case of NORML v. Bell resulted in another loss for the cause of freedom when the court ruled in favor of Bell, holding that marijuana use does not qualify under the right to privacy because it is neither fundamental nor important enough (Earleywine 229-230). The designation of certain rights as unimportant was precisely Alexander Hamilton's fear in adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution at all. Hamilton uses the example of freedom of the press to illustrate a more general concern in The Federalist Papers, Number Eighty-Four:

Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority, which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it, was intended to be vested in the national government. (qtd. in Hager)

The Ninth Amendment was intended to assuage the fears expressed by Hamilton, and yet these liberties are being violated in the government's unwarranted attempt to enforce marijuana prohibition.

In fact, violations have been so atrocious as to have cost lives of not only nonviolent and otherwise innocent marijuana users, but some falsely accused of marijuana use as well. The latter is exemplified by the case of Donald Scott. Police informants had spoken sufficiently of Scott's suspicious purchases and the possibility of some thousands of marijuana plants growing on his ranch that the Drug Enforcement Administration became interested in searching Scott's large Malibu estate. Despite two earlier unsuccessful searches of his ranch, one by air and one on foot, the DEA sent one of its agents on an airplane over Scott's property. The agent officially swore to having seen marijuana plants. Based on his statement, a judge issued a search warrant, after which twenty-seven agents stormed Scott's estate. Rudely awoken and probably a bit confused, Scott dove for his pistol and pointed it at the officers. They shot him dead. A search following the incident uncovered not a single bud of cannabis, let alone thousands of plants (Gray 103-104).

Scott's death resulted directly from a textbook case of unreasonable search and seizure. And had Scott been innocuously growing marijuana--as the DEA had thought and perhaps even wished for, since seizure of the wealthy Scott's property may have provided significant income for the agencies (119)--he would still have been well within his constitutional rights. Indeed, Ethan A. Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, observes that "Congress keeps forgetting that there is no 'drug exception' to the Constitution" (qtd. in "ACLU and Drug Policy Groups Sue"). And since, under the Ninth Amendment, "[t]he enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," the use of marijuana is constitutionally guaranteed insofar as the user does not harm others.

Though the Bill of Rights, consisting of the first ten amendments, applies only to the federal government, all the liberties granted therein effectively apply to state and local governments, as well, after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment: "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property […]." Yet, because of marijuana prohibition, every one of these unalienable rights have been violated: life, as in the case of Scott; liberty, as in the case of all who have been prosecuted and imprisoned for marijuana-related "crimes"; and property, as in the cases of Oliver and Ciraolo and the many instances where a citizen's marijuana was seized.

The Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations, therefore, join the First Amendment violations caused by the prohibition of marijuana: not only freedom of speech, as in the aforementioned Istook rider, but also freedom of practice, as in the cases of the Brahmakrishna sect of Hinduism and the Ethiopoan Zion Coptic Church. The cannabis rituals of these two religions and any others are illegal in the United States as legislated by the Controlled Substances Act and as affirmed by the Supreme Court's decision in Employment Decision v. Smith (Earleywine 228).

Despite their unconstitutionality, these violations persist. In Ashcroft v. Raich, Attorney General John Ashcroft, appealing an earlier decision, recently sued Angel McClary Raich for consumption of her own home-grown medical marijuana. Raich, who suffers from a fatal spectrum of diseases (Raich v. Ashcroft), has been using medical marijuana legally in accordance with California state law but in conflict with federal law. Though the court ruled in favor of Raich in the earlier case, Ashcroft insisted that this violation of the Controlled Substances Act was too much. The Supreme Court's verdict on the appealed case of Ashcroft v. Raich is yet to be announced.

It is clear that the federal government has overstepped its constitutional bounds in enforcing marijuana prohibition. These civil liberties violations are inevitable and direct consequences of the illegal status of marijuana. Furthermore, that marijuana is illegal is an infringement of civil liberties per se, for U.S. citizens are protected against any liberty not specifically denied in the Constitution. In the case of alcohol prohibition, Congress and the state legislatures had to trudge through the intentionally tedious process of amending the Constitution. When it came to marijuana, however, the federal government conveniently ignored it. Yet, marijuana prohibition is fundamentally equivalent to alcohol prohibition: both entail illegalization of the use, production, sale, and distribution of mind-altering substances. The federal government's policies are inconsistent once again.


When marijuana was included under Schedule I, little was known about the drug. Since its illegalization and despite many obstacles, however, several studies have been conducted on the plant to inform us about its biological effects and medical applications. With each study, the merits of including marijuana under Schedule I deteriorate and, in response, the U.S. government and its drug enforcement affiliates irresponsibly propagate more misinformation.

Director Walters of the ONDCP, for example, writes that "smoked marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance…has no medical value and a high risk of abuse. The Food and Drug Administration notes that marijuana has not been approved for any indication, that scientific studies do not support claims of marijuana's usefulness as a medication, and that there is a lack of accepted safety standards for the use of smoked marijuana" (Walters 41). Mr. Walters, by reciting the criteria for Schedule I substances, seems to imply mistakenly that marijuana has no medical use because it is included under Schedule I. He does not consider that the scheduling of marijuana itself could be the issue. In fact, his statement that "scientific studies do not support claims of marijuana's usefulness as a medication" is objectively incorrect. Marijuana's medical uses were so evident that by 1999, six states had legalized medicinal marijuana (Hornblower 20). Walters is also purposely vague; namely, his assertions about the FDA are undated. It is unclear whether the FDA made these statements in 1970, in 2004, or sometime in between. Overall, Walters is confused about the causality: rather than marijuana having no medical use because of its scheduling, the drug should be removed from Schedule I because it does have medical use. Scientific American holds that because marijuana "is defined as being potentially addictive and having no medical use…under the circumstances [the claim] becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy" ("Marijuana Research" 8).

In fact, in September of 2004, Americans for Safe Access petitioned the Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider the information regarding marijuana in the Federal Registrar. The ASA questioned, specifically, the Schedule I claims and the assertion that no scientific studies have shown that marijuana has any medicinal value (Sullum, "Medicinal Grass"). Moreover, Scientific American recounts an incident where a scientist applied for a grant "to study marijuana's potential medical benefits" and was turned down by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, but when he resubmitted the application "to emphasize finding marijuana's negative effects," he acquired funding ("Marijuana Research" 8). It would appear that Mr. Walters, the ONDCP, and the NIDA are attempting to misinform the public about marijuana's medical applications, despite the fact that marijuana is extremely versatile as a medicine (Grinspoon 102).

Marijuana is especially effective in treating glaucoma, which is characterized by abnormally high blood pressure in the eye and is the U.S.'s second most common cause of blindness (104). Evidence shows that marijuana, when smoked, does in fact reduce intraocular pressure far more effectively and with significantly fewer side effects than other legal medicines. Documented case studies show that three glaucoma patients currently receiving NIDA cannabis have successfully tamed the disease and retained their vision, owing to the illegal Schedule I drug (Earleywine 172).

Other studies show that cannabis would be favorable over currently used opiates such as morphine for treatment of cancer-related pain. While opiates induce nausea and are highly addictive, marijuana has neither of these side effects. In fact, studies involving cancer-related pain reveal the remarkable efficacy of marijuana as an analgesic. In one study that tested the effects of different levels of THC against a placebo, high doses of marijuana showed substantial pain relief. A second study tested cannabis against the addictive codeine; they were found to be equally effective (178). Further studies have also shown that marijuana successfully relieves the side effects of nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy (180). Cancer patients, along with AIDS and Alzheimer's victims, often experience loss of appetite and anorexia. Again, studies involving either cannabis or synthetic THC have shown that the drug enhances appetite in patients of all three illnesses (186). Cannabis has also been shown through scientific studies to help patients control seizures in cases where conventional medication did not work (Grinspoon 103) and to reduce spasticity in patients with illnesses affecting the spinal chord (Earleywine 187). The list of cannabis's medical applications is constantly growing.

Despite all this research, there remains much to be learned about marijuana. Its classification as a Schedule I drug, however, is anachronistic and incorrect. "Outdated regulations and attitudes," says Scientific American, "thwart legitimate research with marijuana" ("Marijuana Research" 8). Marijuana should be removed from Schedule I if for no other reason than to make it readily available to scientists for further studies that could lead to better drugs. In spite of its current state, marijuana has shown that it has real medicinal value and enormous potential that cannot be fully explored until its unreasonable ban is removed.


Aside from eliminating the astronomical economic costs associated with marijuana prohibition, a policy of legalization will produce diverse economics benefits. When marijuana was grown in the United States before the Marijuana Tax Act of the 1930s, it served many industrial uses. When the drug was taxed and later illegalized, the entire U.S. hemp industry collapsed. In 1977, U.S. and Canadian pot smokers imported upwards of two and a half billion dollars of illegal marijuana, a plant that used to be grown domestically in bulk (Galbraith 58-59).

There are at least two issues here. Currently, many U.S. farmers are suffering from financial difficulties that could potentially be relieved if the domestic marijuana market were reinstated through legalization. That is to say, those two and a half billion dollars could have helped our farmers (59). Furthermore, the black market for marijuana creates accounting inconsistencies that understate our current account deficit, the portion of the trade deficit that includes the exchange of goods and services, which in turn throws off the calculated magnitude of the gross domestic product. Galbraith holds that the record-setting trade deficit incurred in 1977 was in fact higher than the books show because it does not account for the billions of dollars spent on imported marijuana. At a time when the international value of the dollar is weak, it is exceedingly necessary to be able to gauge the current account deficit. This would be impossible if ten percent of the trade is unaccounted for (59).

Nevertheless, these remain the least obvious economic reasons for legalization. The most noticeable economic benefit of such a policy is the introduction of a vast basis for tax revenue. While many fear that legalization will result in lower prices and, consequently, a significant increase in marijuana use, an effectively designed marijuana tax could preserve its current market price, and the additional revenue could be used for quality, potency, and purity control. In fact, estimates show that marijuana is the U.S.'s fourth most valuable crop, potentially leading to a legitimate industry as large as fifteen billion dollars (Earleywine 236). A sophisticated economic study based on estimates of the marijuana market for the year 1991 suggests that the potential tax revenue from a regulated marijuana market is expected to be in the range of 5.09 and 9.09 billion dollars (Caputo 488). The new market for marijuana would generate jobs that would drive down unemployment. These legitimate jobs would replace the obsolete street dealers who currently rely on illegal marijuana sales as a means of living. Consumers would likely prefer the equally-priced legal cannabis, whose purity and quality would be guaranteed. The black market would be driven out of business.

Dr. Walter Block, Adjunct Scholar at the Fraser, Cato, and Mises Institutes, argues that since marijuana produces no market failures (i.e., free market inefficiencies that can only be corrected through government intervention) there is no economic basis for marijuana prohibition (Block). Indeed, Dr. Block's findings imply that the maximum consumer and producer surplus are attained when the marijuana market is not restricted by prohibition; that is to say, when Pareto equilibrium is achieved wherein the market clears and supply meets demand. Illegalization of marijuana imposes unnatural market forces that disrupt this equilibrium and reduce surplus, creating an irrecoverable economic deadweight loss that is exacerbated by wasted government appropriations for the "war."

Furthermore, fears that legalization would result in nationwide dependence on the drug is unlikely. Estimates suggest that the lower bound of the own-price elasticity of demand for marijuana is around -1.0, while the upper bound is around -1.51 (MacCoun 76; Nisbet 475). These numbers represent the percentage decrease in the consumption of marijuana for a one percent increase in its price. Economists generally recognize own-price elasticities of demand whose absolute value is greater than one as relatively price elastic; that is, quantity demanded is relatively sensitive to price. Compared to many other legal substances such as beer [about -0.28], wine [about -0.80] (Johnson 71), and cigarettes [about -0.35] (Chaloupka 734), marijuana is far more price elastic, suggesting that dependence on marijuana is lower than on the former substances.

Estimates based on economic studies and analyses consistently point toward the economic advantages of the legalization of marijuana. Namely, increased tax revenue and more accurate accounting of gross domestic product and the current account deficit have vast beneficial implications for the United States, which benefits can only be realized through legalization.


To alleviate some of the fear associated with adopting sweeping policy changes, we can look to the Netherlands and its experience with decriminalization. Possession of up to five grams of marijuana or hashish, while technically illegal, is formally ignored by the Dutch to the extent that their policy has been called "de facto legalization" (Gray 218; MacCoun 240). Compared to the United States, both teenagers and adults in the Netherlands have a proportionately lower rate of marijuana use, with the rate of the former age group in the Netherlands at about one half of the corresponding rate in the U.S. (Gray 220). While some predicted marijuana use would drastically increase in the Netherlands, this was not the case (Earleywine 233). Cannabis use remained at around an estimated twenty percent of the Dutch population, aged eighteen, from 1970 through and beyond the decriminalization of 1976 (MacCoun 257). That the Dutch's experience with de facto legalization has worked may predict similar success in the United States, should we follow suit.

The reasons for prohibition that perhaps once seemed logical are simply no longer relevant. William Bennett, a former drug czar, has said, "The simple fact is that drug use is wrong. And the moral argument, in the end, is the most compelling argument" (qtd. in Earleywine 227). Bennett's claims, however, are unsubstantiated and negligent. His reasoning implies a definitive and subjective morality. Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix, suggests that "the government's drug reform policy is driven by a Fundamentalist Christian sense of morality that sees any of these illegal substances used as evil" (qtd. in Stein). His words describe Bennett precisely. The truly "simple fact" is that a government cannot establish its policy on an unrecognized and impractical doctrine of morality that ignores the tangible reality.

So although marijuana prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, may have seemed like the best option several decades ago, time insists that it is detrimental. Studies have even shown that the prohibitionist arguments blaming marijuana for social problems, including "amotivational syndrome," reckless driving, and aggressive behavior, are tenuous (Earleywine 220). The fact also remains that marijuana is not as harmful as the government makes it out to be. Francis Young, a rather candid former administrative law judge for the DEA, concluded that "marihuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man" (qtd. in Nadelmann, "Commonsense" 121). It does not, therefore, belong in the same class as LSD and other hard drugs.

Nadelmann stresses that "[t]he most important objective now…is getting people to focus on prohibition as the problem" (qtd. in Sullum, "Mind Alteration"). Indeed, we must recognize that what the United States has come to hate about marijuana is not the plant itself, but rather the atrocious ills that result from its ban. We blame marijuana for draining tax money, diverting law enforcement, corrupting the nation's youth, and so on, but it is the policy, not the weed, that is at fault. The most disappointing aspect of these maladies is that they have been, and still are, easily avoidable--if we would just strike that one line from the list of Schedule I hallucinogenic substances that reads, "tetrahydrocannabinols."

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.
-Bob Dylan


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