it’s interesting to look at the history of prohibition in the us and hope for some parallels. wikipedia:
Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression, especially in large cities. On March 23, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law an amendment to the Volstead Act known as the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowing the manufacture and sale of certain kinds of alcoholic beverages.
Many social problems have been attributed to the Prohibition era. Mafia groups limited their activities to gambling and thievery until 1920, when organized bootlegging manifested in response to the effect of Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Powerful gangs corrupted law enforcement agencies, leading to Racketeering. Stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle.
The cost of enforcing Prohibition was high, and the lack of tax revenues on alcohol (some $500 million annually nationwide) affected government coffers.
When repeal of Prohibition occurred in 1933, organized crime lost nearly all of its black market alcohol profits in most states (states still had the right to enforce their own laws concerning alcohol consumption) because of competition with low-priced alcohol sales at legal liquor stores.
how far-fetched is the launch of marlboro greens in our lifetimes?
jeffrey a. miron is the director of undergraduate studies at harvard university’s economics department in the freakonomics debate (emphasis mine):
“Marijuana legalization is not a panacea; rather, it is a significant step in the direction of saner drug policy.”
Legalized marijuana would likely be subject to the kind of regulation and taxation that currently applies to alcohol and tobacco — e.g., sin taxes and age restrictions — but it would otherwise be no different under the law than an espresso at Starbucks.
Legalizing marijuana would produce important benefits for the United States.
Legalization would allow people who use marijuana, without harm to themselves or others, to do so without fear of arrest or incarceration. This is exactly what occurs now for alcohol and tobacco.
Legalization would reduce violence. In underground markets, participants cannot resolve their disputes with lawyers, courts, or advertising, so they employ violence instead. Violence was common in the alcohol industry during alcohol prohibition, but not before or after; in gambling markets before state and federal governments legalized most forms of gambling; and in prostitution markets where prohibition forces these underground. Legalization would also reduce corruption, since producers and consumers would have no reason to bribe police, judges, and politicians.
Legalization would benefit the public purse. My research indicates that legalization would save federal and state budgets approximately $13 billion in enforcement costs and allow collection of about $7 billion in tax revenues, assuming marijuana were taxed like alcohol and tobacco.
One thing legalization would not do is produce a major increase in marijuana use; existing evidence suggests prohibition has only a modest impact.
A second thing legalization would not do is eliminate the bulk of violence, crime, and corruption induced by drug prohibition, since much of that relates to cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. To achieve the full benefits of legalization, policy must legalize all drugs.
it’s probably too much of a wedge-issue for obama to take on but then the movement will probably start at the state level where a growing number have decriminalized the drug. wikipedia again: alaska, arkansas, california, colorado, kansas, illinois, maine, massachusetts, montana, michigan, minnesota, missouri, mississippi, nebraska, nevada, new york, north carolina, ohio, oregon, washington, wisconsin.
there are plenty of opposing voices though (people who haven’t toked perhaps). stephen dubner introduced the debate with this:
As you will see, consensus on this issue is now — and will probably always remain — elusive
via free exchange.
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- Cannabis Sanity (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
- Dvorak Poll: Marijuana – Time to change ‘War on Drugs’ to ‘War on Drug Laws?’ (dvorak.org)