L.A. Times: Some Facts For The Drug Czar — Marijuana’s Social Costs Are Far Less Than Those Of Legal Intoxicants

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 30, 2010

    Last week I posted a brief response to the Los Angeles Times commentary authored by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske (along with five previous drug czars) condemning California’s Prop. 19.

    Today the Los Angeles Times has posted my full rebuttal, which I’ve excerpted below.

    Some marijuana tax revenue is better than none
    via The Los Angeles Times

    … Kerlikowske’s opposition to Proposition 19 … is a fairly common one. Kerlikowske et al argue that, if legalized, marijuana’s perceived social costs would outweigh the economic benefits reaped by regulation. They base this allegation largely on the premise that present taxes on alcohol and cigarettes fail to adequately pay for the societal costs associated with those drugs’ use and abuse. True enough, but here’s why this sound bite is irrelevant to the present marijuana debate.

    Marijuana is safer than alcohol.

    Alcohol is toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results directly in about 35,000 deaths a year. … By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana … are remarkably non-toxic. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing a fatal overdose, and its use is inversely associated with aggression and injury. In fact, the recently released Rand Corp. report found that in 2008, there were fewer than 200 “admissions to hospitals in which marijuana abuse or dependence was listed as the primary reason for the hospitalization.” By comparison, there are more than 70,000 hospitalizations in California annually related to the use of alcohol.

    Marijuana is far safer than tobacco.

    According to a 2009 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states: “In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.”

    Some tax revenue is better than no tax revenue.

    According to a 2007 George Mason University study, U.S. citizens each year spend about $113 billion on marijuana. Under prohibition, all of this spending is directed toward an underground economy and goes untaxed. That means state and local governments are presently collecting zero dollars to offset societal and health costs related to recreational marijuana use. Therefore, the imposition of any retail tax or excise fee would be an improvement over the current situation.

    In short, the drug czars’ assessment that present taxes on alcohol and tobacco — two deadly products — do not raise sufficient funding to offset their related social costs is not an argument in favor of maintaining the status quo, particularly when one recognizes that the social and health costs related to cannabis use are far less than those associated with the use of other intoxicants.

    You can read my full commentary here. (You can also comment on it here.)

    45 responses to “L.A. Times: Some Facts For The Drug Czar — Marijuana’s Social Costs Are Far Less Than Those Of Legal Intoxicants”

    1. Don M says:

      As usual, Paul Armentano’s points make a lot of sense. What a wonderful world this could be if only our countries leaders and lawmakers showed as much sense! I only recently learned that the Drug Czar’s job requires him (or her) to do everything possible to keep marijuana illegal including lying and trying to stop research. They (the DEA) lock people up, take away their right to vote,take their property, even take away their right to free speech – all to keep marijuana illegal. This is unbelievable! But, nevertheless true!

      I’ve said this before, and on other blogs, but I’ll say it again: The creation of the DEA was a HUGE mistake! It has been nothing but an incredible waste of resources, and is responsible for ruining more lives than all the wars this country has ever fought (assuming being locked up, losing your job, family, education, and some possessions is considered as ruining your life). The DEA should just be removed. All of the money that is being used to harass and harm people would be much better used in drug treatment when necessary (not just because a judge says its needed…).

    2. baker says:

      Yes, yes, and yes on Cali’s measure 19!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    3. Douglas says:

      Not only are they missing out on the tax revenue, just look at how much they would save in revenue by people not being jailed an the cost of court time. It’s ridiculous the amounts they spend trying to stamp out something that is not harmful to society.

    4. Anonymous says:

      Last night i watched from , El Paso ” Cops ” on TV .. I saw of group of about 8 – beer bellied swat members go after a man & woman who possessed pot . They apparently had a ” no knock ” warrrant . These thugs used a battering ram to smash open the front door only to realize the door was already open ( unlocked ) . They stormed in with their billie clubs , handguns , machine guns like they were about to encounter some violent Drug pushers . Well , they found the gentleman & his wife calmly watching TV as these thugs burst into the living room . The couple complied 100 % with the swat team putting up absolutely no resistance . They did not fight or anything . They were completely compliant . In the next scene i saw the gentleman and his wife sitting in the back of a Police car . Law enforcement created violence here & no one else . They were the brutes in this case . I was saddened to see how these Law enforcement ( with all due respect to you , Sirs )officials could even think of arresting these people because of unjust Laws in a State that is run by oil money . Hemp can create oil & again these Corporations are paying the Politicians for this ridiculousness which does nothing more then ruin peoples lives . I looked back at this video & tears almost swelled in my eyes at what’s happening in Texas & it’s all over money .These Corporations surely have taken the side of Satan with their lust for money , power and greed over the Earth .

    5. Aj says:

      I find the alcohol and cigeratte comparison irrelevant simply because enforcing prohibiton on these substances would cost more then the current health costs..

      So, yes the tax revenue may be less then the societial costs, however the societal costs AND the dollar amount was more under prohibition..

    6. MatterofLiberty says:

      CONSISTANCY! Its just plain inconsistant governing that cannabis isnt regulated like alchohol. Any other blatant inconsistancy such as this would have been rectified years ago if politicians were just put on the spot about it!

    7. jason says:

      this is all nice, but there is sort of a bigger issue i don’t think many people emphasize enough: and that is that people are being put in jail and relegated for it.

      How is putting people in jail and guaranteeing they will never make above minimum wage a viable solution to uncertainty over whether or not they will be able to pay their hospital bills? I’ve yet to hear a single decent argument against this: assuming it is bad for you, assuming it is morally questionable, assuming it is everything the media claims it to be, how is worth putting people in jail for it?

      Even if there were a fine involved, that would make some sense if you were to believe the media, but relegation and incarceration actually functions contrary to the intent that prohibitionists claim. You don’t give people a better chance at a wholesome puritan life by sending them to jail.

    8. Anonymous says:

      I don’t blame the members of Swat for their obvious agressiveness to arrest this non violent couple . In fact , Law enforcement & in this case , ” Swat ” does an excellent job & will put their lives on the line to save one of us . These are fine , highly skilled individuals .They did exactly what they were told to do .

      I blame the BIG Corporations and the politicians for accepting bribes of huge sums of money for these
      things . They have taken the side of the Devil the great SATAN rather than that of GOD .

    9. Raymond W. says:

      It is fairly obvious that those who believe that Alcohol and Tobacco should be legal, but not Cannabis are either ill-informed or completely hypocritical.

      I don’t drink alcohol at all. I think it is a dangerous and addictive drug. But I would NEVER want someone to go to jail for having a drink in the privacy of their own home. Why should someone who responsibly enjoys a drug that is far safer than alcohol have to fear legal repercussions?