12 November 2012

Legalize Marijuana

Economics and Ethics
Jonathan B. Wight
They don't call it a "weed" for nothing. Marijuana outperforms corn in surviving the drought, according to law enforcement officers who can now spot the green plant amidst the water-starved brown fields of Indiana. If there weren't already a myriad of other reasons for considering legalizing (or at least de-criminalizing) marijuana, here's one more reason: it provides a diversified crop for our farmers, and one that is resistant to drought.
Hemp (a cousin to the marijuana plant) was an important cash crop during Virginia's colonial times and could be again today. Hemp is a strong fiber; more than 100,000 pounds of hemp were used to rig the sails of the USS Constitution, America's oldest warship. Legal marijuana would provide an economic boost to farmers and also needed revenue to government, which could tax it.
Legalization would free up law enforcement and courts to focus on more serious crimes. It would reduce the incomes of violent gangs who currently sell the product on black markets, which by their nature degrade the status and respect for law and its officers.
Think of the ban on trade with Cuba alongside the ban on marijuana: both are bad policies and both hot political potatoes. Neither law is rooted in pragmatic cost/benefit analysis but rather what appears to be prejudice and ideology. It's the notion that "if we give an inch, they'll take a mile."
America didn't use that metaphor when we engaged in dialog and rapprochement with China. America similarly repealed Prohibition's ban on alcohol. Marijuana does pose health hazards, but cigarettes and alcohol pose equal or larger health hazards yet they remain legal and regulated.
It is no surprise that many economists (including Nobel laureates) support legalization. Finally, on November 6 voters in Colorado and Washington legalized personal marijuana consumption. Let's hope the Feds respect the states' rights on this.