The social and economic costs of drug abuse are often used
to justify contemporary policies which treat marijuana use,
cultivation, and sale as criminal offenses in most of the
United States. These costs are frequently an excuse to refuse
to consider whether alternative policies might be more effective.
For example, it is argued that marijuana's legalization cannot
be considered because legalization would result in a substantial
increase in its use and would produce unacceptable increases
in the social and economic costs of drug abuse. This report
challenges the premise of such an argument by looking at both
the costs and results of current policies.
Certainly, there is widespread consensus that easy access
to marijuana can be harmful to adolescents and people afflicted
with mental illness such as schizophrenia. However, it is
equally obvious that current laws making marijuana possession
illegal have failed to protect these vulnerable groups.
After funding decades of scientific research, the United
States Government has failed to make a convincing case that
marijuana is more harmful to individual health than alcohol
or tobacco. An examination of the scientific record is beyond
the scope of this report, however it is relatively easy to
support the assertion that the government has failed to convince
many scientific and other experts, let alone millions of marijuana
users, that the drug is more dangerous than alcohol. Consider
the following offhand remarks reported by the national media
A June 14, 2007 report by ABC News on marijuana cultivation
features comments on whether marijuana is a gateway drug by
Columbia University neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart:
"I don't know of any evidence to support the statement
that marijuana is the biggest cause of addiction,'' Dr.
Hart told ABC News, who also challenged Walters' claim that
60 percent of drug treatment goes to marijuana users. "About
ten percent of the folks who ever try marijuana will become
addicted or dependent, whereas about 15 to 20 percent of
those individuals who [try] cocaine will become addicted,''
he said, citing DEA statistics he's studied.
"A quarter of the people who try heroin become addicted,
Hart said, and a full third of those who try tobacco become
"Is marijuana a gateway drug?" Hart asked rhetorically.
"It's a difficult question because I think people focus
on, 'you try marijuana you're going to go on to other drugs,'
when the vast majority of the folks who [use] marijuana
do not go on to other drugs. But certainly, those individuals
who've tried cocaine and they have tried heroin, most of
them have used marijuana. And most of them have used alcohol
underage, and most of them have smoked tobacco as well.
So if you think about 'gateway' in that sense, certainly
you can say it's a gateway. But what is the meaning of gateway
when you put it together like that?"(1)
A June 25, 2007 article in Newsweek regarding parent-sanctioned
alcohol use by teens reported the following comment:
"Aaron White of Duke University Medical Center, who
studies adolescent alcohol use . . . says parents should
think twice about offering alcohol to teens because their
brains are still developing and are more susceptible to
damage than adult brains. 'If you're going to do that, I
suggest you teach them to roll joints, too,' he says, 'because
the science is clear that alcohol is more dangerous than
The Washington Post provided a profile of Dr. Drew Pinsky
and his appearance before a group of conservative Congressional
Staff members at a presentation sponsored by the Independent
Women's Forum advertised as a "Campus Sex and Dating
Conference" hosted by House Minority Leader John Boehner.
According to the Washington Post:
"The conservative National Review several years ago
described Pinsky, host of the radio show 'Loveline,' as
a 'hip cultural warrior' who delivers family values in a
stealthy package. . . Turning to drug use, Pinsky asserted
that, as a matter of health, marijuana 'is certainly no
worse than alcohol and cigarettes and maybe better.'"(3)
Just as there is a lack of consensus that marijuana is more
harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and thus requires greater
legal suppression and criminal penalties rather than a regulatory
and more public-health oriented public policy approach, there
is also a lack of consensus and data that current policies
are either successful at restricting access to marijuana,
cost-effective, or both. The government publishes considerable
data on marijuana, including its supply, use, availability,
and price. Marginal changes in these figures are often spun
by Administration officials as proof their policies are successful.
Indeed, over the long-term, these data are reasonable indicators
with which to evaluate the effectiveness of public policy.
But this data has two specific functions within the scope
of this report. First, over the long term this data demonstrates
the boundary of what the government asserts is acceptable
performance for their marijuana-related policies. Despite
the rhetoric and hyperbole that accompanies their annual strategies
and budgets, consistent data suggests that marijuana use and
supply have not significantly diminished over the long-term
and are unlikely to diminish in the future. Second, these
data provide us with additional boundaries within which to
estimate the cost of this approach to marijuana laws.
We really don't know the exact number of marijuana users,
the precise amount of marijuana the market supplies, the specific
frequency and amounts users consume and what they pay for
it. But the extensive data supplied by the government gives
us boundaries within which the precise figures can be found;
they provide us with what modeling experts call a solution
area. This report estimates the costs of marijuana laws within
this context of current policy performance and available data.
The report opens with a critical appraisal of the government's
estimation of the costs of drug abuse with emphasis on the
minor role of marijuana's contribution to these costs. Section
1 also looks at the role of utilizing such costs in analysis
of contemporary public policies that rely on criminal sanctions
to control marijuana's use, production, and sale in the United
Section 2 of the
report reviews data from the National Survey on Drug Use and
Health on the extent of marijuana use in the United States
since 1990, with particular attention to use by age group.
This section also reviews information on the consumption of
marijuana, frequency of use, the effects of developing tolerance
to marijuana, and profiles of heavy marijuana use in order
to provide some background on how the vast sums of marijuana
available in the US are consumed by the using population.
of the report reviews data from both the National Survey on
Drug Use and Health and the Monitoring the Future survey on
the topic of the availability of marijuana. Despite law enforcement's
best efforts marijuana remains widely available to all age
groups, particularly adolescents and teenagers. Survey data
also indicates how many individuals sell drugs, providing
additional understanding on the mechanisms by which marijuana
is available in the nation's schools - school children sell
marijuana to other adolescents.
Section 4 presents
data on the price of marijuana is provided from several sources.
Historical and contemporary data are presented, including
data derived from police purchases of marijuana, NSDUH survey
data, and reports from High Times magazine on the price of
marijuana in the United States. A composite price from these
various sources is compiled to represent the price of marijuana
over the last four years for use in placing a value on the
annual supply of marijuana in the United States.
Section 5 provides
data on the supply of marijuana and introduces three types
of supply estimates. The first is based on seizures of marijuana
by federal law enforcement agencies. Another source of supply
estimates consists of reports from federal inter-agency committees
as well as reports on marijuana's availability by the Federal
Research Service of the Library of Congress. A third approach
to estimating annual supply is based on calculating the consumption
of marijuana accounted for by data from NSDUH and its predecessor
surveys. A composite supply estimate is derived by taking
the average of 4 supply estimates from these various sources.
The economic value of the annual marijuana supply is generated
by applying the price index derived in Section
4 to the supply estimate generated by Section
5. The budgetary impact of this value is derived in Section
6 with the use of data from the Office of Management and
Budget on the tax revenue derived from the nation's Gross
Domestic Product. The reasoning behind this valuation is that
the diversion of funds to the marijuana market represents
a loss of capital to the taxable economy and subsequently
a loss of tax revenue to local, state, and the federal government.
The concluding commentary
reviews the benefits and advantages of the regulation and
legalization of marijuana.