Published on: 11/26/16
Harvard Economics professor, not your average cannabis advocate, has found prohibition is as costly as it is senseless.
Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron interviewed on the economics of legalization of marijuana
Jesse Miller-Gordon interviewed economics Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron on the economics of legalization. The study Prof. Miron conducted looked at what had happened in the four states that legalized marijuana under these state laws. It basically found that nothing bad happened.
All the outcomes people expected to change such as rates of drug use, alcohol use, other drug use, traffic safety problems, rising crime rate, and more emergency-room episodes, were minimally affected. A few go up a little, a few go down a little, but overall there is just not much change in these outcomes, he said.
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How detrimental has prohibition been?
All prohibition of all drugs has done huge damage in terms of increasing crime rates, infringing on civil liberty, aggravating racial tensions, and damage in terms of reducing the health of people who use drugs because they are getting it on a “black market” rather than in a legal market where they know what dosage they are getting.
It’s had significant effects on breeding insurrection in other countries, including supplier countries such as Columbia, Peru and Afghanistan, and it has cost billions and billions of dollars. All these negative effects are the result of prohibition which had minimal impact on drug use.
Is there anything in the Massachusetts’s bill that makes you nervous as an economist?
Overall, Prof. Miron supports the bill, saying it is doing the right thing by legalizing marijuana. Unfortunately, it comes with a lot of regulations and taxes. We don’t need new conditions; we don’t need all sorts of complicated regulations. But that is the problem with the price of any political compromise; it is done to get people’s vote.
What are the economic implications?
The bill will probably end up in cannabusiness raising 20 – 40 million in tax revenues. It may imply some expenditure for all the regulatory apparatus, which is a waste of money. Rather take the revenues, and be happy with that, says Miron. There is also the opportunity to save on criminal justice expenditure on incarceration and making arrests. Even though those expenditures are not huge, police time can at least be used to go after the perpetrators of crimes more serious than marijuana use.
What would you say to parents that are worried about more access for their kids?
The concern is understandable, but misplaced. Kids report in surveys that they already have easier access to marijuana than to alcohol. That’s because someone selling alcohol to an underage person might lose their license, whereas someone selling marijuana illegally just worries about being caught. When they are licensed, they are more likely to keep to regulations to avoid punishment or loss of a license.
What would your message be to the public on legalization?
These are some considerations raised by Professor Miron:
- The risks to health and traffic safety are substantially less with marijuana than with alcohol. If you believe alcohol should be legal, you should draw the same conclusion about marijuana.
- Evidence shows that moving from the illegal regime to the legal regime has very little effect on hard drug use or on crime, so the scary stories of mushrooming addiction and drug use are not supported by evidence.
- Prohibition has a heavy cost in crime, creates racial tension, corruption, and more overdoses. Even if legalization is not perfect, it is better than prohibition.
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