Can You Guess How Much Money Legalizing Marijuana Would Save?

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  In just a little more than two weeks, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia will become the third through fifth states (and capital in the case of D.C.) of the country to vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana sales.

While an October 2013 Gallup poll showed that, for the first time in history, more respondents favored marijuana legalization than opposed it, opinions surrounding marijuana’s use in a recreational setting remain fluid. In fact, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act failed to garner enough votes to be approved in 2012, so nothing is a given.

The staggering amount of money spent on drug enforcement
One thing is very clear even if the public’s opinion of whether marijuana should be legalized varies state by state: a lot of money is spent by individual states and the federal government in policing marijuana, which is listed as a schedule 1 illicit drug.

Just how much? To answer this question, I turned to a 2010 publication (link opens PDF) from Jeffery Miron, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Economics at Harvard University, who estimated the effects of drug prohibition on state and federal budgets. While Miron’s data reflects the costs associated with cumulative drug enforcement for states and the federal government, which equaled $48.7 billion annually, and also separates out the estimated cost of enforcing prohibitions on each of the major drugs, including marijuana.


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