Before I get into my arguments about why Canada should legalize marijuana, I want to be clear: drugs are bad for you. Even marijuana. The long term adverse effects of marijuana use are only now becoming clear and they’re nasty –the list ranges from schizophrenia to respiratory issues, and it expands every year. You only need to have one friend who got heavy into smoking weed during university to see how it destroys initiative and makes otherwise ambitious, hardworking people into lazier, less interesting versions of themselves.
I am not a drug user. I have a strong moral conviction, however, that the Canadian federal government should legalize marijuana possession and tax its trafficking. I discussed the matter last week with Young and Thrifty in the comments on my ironic stock picks post. It is obscene that hundreds of thousands of otherwise decent Canadians have been needlessly given a criminal record for carrying around a few grams of pot.
The current Conservative government seems unlikely to enact such a law. In fact, they introduced a more regressive anti-pot law in 2009. I debated with MP Dean Del Mastro (who I’ve generally supported) about the issue of decriminalization. He said something like “drugs are dangerous so they should be illegal”. My response was very Nelson-like; along the lines of ”Well why don’t you ban alcohol? That kills more people than all the illegal drugs combined.”
The reason alcohol is not banned is because Canada and the US tried prohibition (at different times) and failed miserably, just like the current prohibition on marijuana has failed miserably. During prohibition there was still demand for liquor; this demand was just pushed into being filled in back-alleys and illegal speakeasies where criminals could prey upon users. Whenever a big bust happened, prices went up — incentivizing entry of liquor into that particular market. (Yep, authorities used to do huge photo ops with the seized illicit substances laid out for cameras. Not that they do it anymore.) Prohibition made the risky venture of bootlegging into a more worthwhile, attractive enterprise; criminalization in effect subsidized cartels. The same is true today of marijuana.
In fact, as Derek of Free-at-33 attests, criminalization creates an even more evil phenomenon: drug pushers. These folks work actively to create new demand, often through illegal and violent means. High prices, created by criminalization, encourages this sort of aggressive marketing. Every new junkie is a gold mine. Going back to our prohibition example: the subsidy for cartels that results from criminalization is so massive that, even after prohibition ended, liquor kingpins made massive donations to temperance unions to help pass local- and state-level prohibition laws.
The disputes of drug dealers and criminal organizations can’t be settled at law, so they’re decided with blood. Wouldn’t it be better to see huge marijuana marketers suing each other in court than brutal shootings in the streets? Further, at the consumer level, the high prices created by prohibition also lead to desperation among junkies (admittedly I’m not talking about marijuana anymore). It’s not rare to hear about desperate addicts committing atrocious crimes just to get to their next high. It may seem unbelievable but the much lower prices of legally-delivered drugs would surely prevent a lot of violence.
Jailing drug traffickers is probably one of the most fundamentally socialist policy decisions that a government could make. Jails — even according to most Libertarians — should be funded by the government (although private companies could do a better job of operating them). So when somebody gets sent to jail for a crime, there’d better be a damn good reason that tax payers will be forced to foot the bill. If the crime is merely drug consumption, where the crime only hurt the user, why in the world should I be forced to pay for the user’s interment?
Pot should be legalized and taxed. Not because we’re missing out on billions in potential revenue, although we are. We should tax it because taxes (Pigovian taxes, specifically) are better than regulations. Rather than banning a behaviour (which creates the aforementioned market space for cartel entry) such taxes affect incentives. If the behaviour is bad, e.g. smoking, you add a tax to it. If the behaviour is good then you subsidize it. Pigovian taxes, when optimally applied, force a person to internalize the costs of his or her own actions. Like road tolls with congestion rates.
A move to legalize marijuana would be an ideal armistice to stop a key front in the drug war. Such a law would beat wasting billions on armed, government-backed tyrants who violate our liberties to protect… um… who do they really protect? Let’s think about that. Drug users and dealers get thrown in jail. The average citizen is only at risk when violence spills onto the streets or when a junkie mugs a person to buy drugs — situations that, as we established, are needless. Criminal organizations, that come into existence and profitability by virtue of prohibition, seem to be the only stakeholder protected by all of this ‘security’ spending.
Yet we continue to pay for a war on drugs that subsidizes cartels, locks up low-level criminals for the most expensive possible holidays, and ignores a massive source of potential revenue. The Canadian Conservative Party dons the garb of “fiscal conservatism” while spending like socialists. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Thomas Sowell.