Health & Social Policy

Reducing the Deficit with Drugs


Our national debt is $14.2 trillion, which is more than our gross domestic product. Currently we borrow 43 cents of every dollar that we spend. Both Republicans and Democrats are concerned about our growing debt, yet both parties have exacerbated the problem. President Bush Jr. more than doubled military spending during his presidency, from $300 billion in 2000 to $650 billion by the time he left office. President Obama has continued that trend and we are now spending over $700 billion annually on defense.

Worst of all, our current debt projections do not take into account future obligations, such as Social Security and Medicare. When those future obligations are taken into consideration, our national debt isn’t $14.2 trillion, but somewhere between $70 trillion and $140 trillion.

With such a massive debt hanging over our heads, we can all agree that something drastic must be done. We have two choices: decrease spending, or increase revenue. An ideal solution will do both. Legalizing marijuana will stimulate economic growth, reduce crime, reduce the need for welfare, increase revenue and cut government spending.

There are many legitimate concerns regarding legalizing marijuana:

1: It’s a gateway drug and will lead people to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.

2: We already have a drug problem in this country and we shouldn’t make it worse by legalizing another drug.

3: Legalizing marijuana will make marijuana more accessible to children.

4: Marijuana is an addictive, dangerous substance, and it needs to be illegal to protect people from its harmful effects.

These legitimate concerns require fact-based responses:

1: Gateway theory:  A recent 12-year study by the University of Pittsburgh finds that marijuana use does not lead to harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. A 2000 report by the federal government, reprinted in the Archives of General Psychiatry,  also dismissed marijuana’s gateway effect.

2: Legalization will increase drug use: Less than 1 percent of those under 21 had tried marijuana before it became illegal in 1937. Today, almost half of high school seniors have tried marijuana. Portugal in 2001 decriminalized all drugs and drug use has actually decreased. Time Magazine reports that since decriminalization, drug use in Portugal amongst adolescents fell 4 percent, and Portugal has the lowest rate of marijuana usage as any country in the E.U.

Walter Kemp, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says decriminalization in Portugal "appears to be working”.

3: Legalization will increase access for children: Drug dealers don’t ask for ID. If marijuana were legalized children would have greater difficulty buying marijuana because those who sell it would require an ID.

4: Marijuana is dangerous: In 2009, tobacco was responsible for 435,000 deaths and alcohol for 85,000 deaths. Marijuana has never directly caused a single death. Smoked marijuana has never been causally linked to lung cancer, and compounds in marijuana have actually killed lung cancer cells and other types of cancer. There is not one documented case of death caused by marijuana overdose in history.

Marijuana will reduce the deficit and rescue the economy

Legalizing marijuana will save billions in law enforcement, incarceration and legal expenses while generating billions in tax revenue. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron found that legalizing marijuana would save state and local governments $5.3 billion and the federal government $2.4 billion, for a total savings of $7.7 billion. Taxing marijuana at a rate similar to alcohol will raise $6.2 billion in revenue.

Marijuana, California’s biggest cash crop with $14.1 billion in sales, was estimated to generate $1.3 billion in tax revenue in California alone.

A whole economy will develop around marijuana once it is legalized. Legitimate shops and growers will enter the legal market and compete for business. Trucking companies, rather than drug smugglers, will transport marijuana. Shops selling marijuana and bars where people smoke marijuana, similar to hookah bars, will open, hire workers and pay income and business taxes.

Legalization has massive support amongst economists. Milton Friedman, Nobel Laureate George Akerlof and 500 other economists signed an open letter to the president, Congress, and state legislatures, urging lawmakers to legalize marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana will decrease the need for welfare in America. Sadly, blacks and Latinos are more likely to be imprisoned for marijuana than whites; blacks are five times more likely to face prison time for marijuana possession that whites. When an American is jailed for marijuana, he can’t work to feed his family and instead costs the American taxpayer $30,000 every year he is behind bars. When marijuana is legalized, fathers will be released from prison and will be able to re-enter the workforce and provide for their families, thus reducing the need for welfare.

Most importantly to Texans, legalizing marijuana will decrease border violence. "I don't care if you put 10 Marine divisions along the Mexican border, you are never going to be able to stop the movement of drugs, marijuana, across the border," said Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration's former chief of international operations. Since it can’t be stopped, the way to decrease the violence is to legitimize American growers of marijuana. Or if Americans can legally import marijuana from Mexico, that will take the business, and thus the money and power, away from the violent cartels.

What are our elected officials waiting for?

There is a huge disconnect between the will of the citizens and the behavior of our elected officials. The most recent polls by Gallup show that 46 percent of Americans support legalization of marijuana and 73 percent support medical marijuana. How many federal representatives of senators have proposed medical marijuana bills, something two-thirds of the population supports?

In 2009 Barney Frank , Ron Paul, and twelve others introduced the Marijuana Patient Protection Act. This bill would prohibit federal interference in state-run medical marijuana programs and would officially recognize marijuana’s medical benefits. Republicans, who say they support state’s rights, should have supported this bill, as well as those pot-friendly Democrats. Yet less than 10% of the House co-sponsored the bill, and the bill never made it out of committee. That is well shy of the 73 percent of representatives who should be supporting this legislation.

There are politicians who will – Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico, is the only candidate for president who openly supports legalization of marijuana. Johnson, a Republican, believes in small government on both fiscal and social issues, which means he supports a balanced budget and less intervention in American lives. With 73 percent of the U.S. population supporting medical marijuana, and 46 percent supporting legalization, Gary Johnson will spark some interesting debates amongst Republican candidates who are afraid of upsetting social conservatives.

Legalizing marijuana will not solve the debt crisis, but it is a big step in the right direction. We need a Commander-in-Chief brave enough to do it.

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