It was the summer of 1988. I was doing a semester abroad. I sat down in this little coffee shop, just off of some street whose name I would not even attempt to pronounce for the fear of twisting my tongue in a knot that I would never get out. After waiting for a few moments, the waiter, who spoke perfect English, handed me a menu. I opened it up and inside was a selection of every kind of coffee and tea concoction that they served. The words were easy, no ventis or grandes, no frappuccinos or macchittos. They kept it simple and I quickly ordered a plain cappuccino. After a few minutes they brought me my drink, then handed me a second menu. Quite honestly, having never been to this kind of coffee shop before, I did not really know what to expect. The last thing I expected was for the next selection of items to be presented to me in a menu, maybe on a plate neatly arranged where I could simply point to the one I wanted, or perhaps in a glass, temperature controlled case like some fine chocolates, but most defintly, not in a menu. At the time I was in college doing a semester abroad and it had been many years, high school exactly, since I had last partaken of this particular indulgence, but considering the uniqueness of this opportunity, an opportunity that I would never have a chance to experience anywhere in the United States at the time, I felt almost obligated to place an order from this second menu. I took my time and looked the menu up and down reading each description, considering my decision carefully knowing that unless I ever came back to this part of the world I most likely would never experience a purchasing opportunity like this again. Then the waiter came back to my table and asked me if I had made my decision. I had. “One gram of Jamaican Sinsemilla please?” The waiter asked, “Would you like anything to smoke that with, a pipe, a bong, a hooka?” Not expecting to be able to partake of it right there and then, I answered, “No, I’ll take it to go.”
I just could not imagine being able to smoke marijuana so openly and legally, and even though I knew that in Amsterdam, where I was visiting for a few days, it was perfectly legal, as an American, the culture shock of being allowed to smoke cannabis as if it was no different than a cigarette or a shot of tequila, was something I just could not wrap my brain around. Quite simply, it was just too weird. Whether I actually smoked it or not was not what was important. It was the experience, the experience of being able to buy something, so openly and so legally, that in the United States is considered so taboo. I paid for my coffee and ganja, placed the bag in my pocket, and walked down to the red light district where I could observe Japanese business men and English students on break legally paying for hookers, another experience that was just too weird to see so openly and legally. Also where there was this little Greek restaurant that I ate at every night I was there. I thought to myself either this country is the most immoral on earth, or they’ve got it all figured out.
In the United States of course marijuana is illegal. The funny thing is, as a teenager marijuana was just as easy to purchase here as it was legally in Amsterdam. The only difference was that in the U.S. it wasn’t done in the openness of a coffee shop, but instead in some guys basement or behind a 7-Eleven. The truth is if a person wants to smoke marijuana, there is not a single law out there that is going to deter them from doing it. I am sure that today, if I wanted to get high, which I don't and haven’t done so since my early college days, in a matter of three phone calls I could buy whatever I want to. So why exactly is marijuana illegal in the United States? To tell you the truth I have no idea. Cigarettes are legal and nicotine is considered to be more addictive than heroine. Marijuana actually has no addictive properties at all and is impossible to overdose on. Alcohol is legal but to this day I have never seen a mob of stoned people beating the crap out of each other, but get a bunch of drunk hockey fans together, and two kegs of Guinness and you have a riot. In the U.S. annually the number of deaths that can be attributed directly to cigarettes is around 450,000. The number of annual deaths directly attributed to alcohol is about 85,000. The number of deaths attributed directly to marijuana... is zero.
Listen, I am no angel. I went to college, I was in a fraternity, I’ve done beer bongs, I have a photo of myself that was taken after a night of drinking Ouzo in Greece and my eyes are going to two different directions. How I got back to the hotel I have no idea but somehow I eneded up on a boat to Mykonos! Hung over doesn’t even come close to how I felt on that boat! And that is from something that is legal. I’m not even going to get in to how addictive alcohol can be, how destructive it can be to a person life, to their family, how many car accidents have been caused and lives have been lost by drunk driving, all from something that is perfectly legal, and not to mention taxed by our government. So why should Marijuana be legal? I’ll tell you why, and this is coming from a guy who does not smoke it. It should be legal because it makes sense. There is nothing stopping anyone from getting it, and the amount of money that we spend on trying to keep it out of this country, on enforcing the laws that exist, on the cost of keeping someone in prison for possessing it, simply is not proportional to the amount of people who are being either prevented or deterred from using it. From 1980 to 2009 the amount of arrests for Marijuana has more than doubled from 401,000 to 858,000, yet the potency of the drug has gone up and so has the usage. Prohibition has simply failed, it is simply not a deterrent. Consistently in surveys of high school seniors it is reported that 85.5% state that marijuana is easy to get. And the amount of money it is costing us to enforce this failed policy, as well as the revenue we are losing from potential taxes, simply does not make economic sense. Just as many Americans will smoke marijuana this year as will buy a new car or truck. The reality is that it is simply a matter of economics.
In June 2005, Jeffery Miron, a visiting professor of economics at Harvard University released a report entitled “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition”. In this report, Professor Miron states, “legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure (it has since been updated to 13.3 billion) on enforcement (costs alone) of prohibition. $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government.” Milton goes on to say that, “the report also estimates that marijuana legalization would yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.” The amount spent on the prohibition of marijuana and everything associated with it including enforcement, as well as court costs, and daily imprisonment, is estimated to be as high as 27.2 billion per year. So not only could we potentially save as much as 27.2 billion per year but we could also generate a potential revenue of 6.2 billion per year, which would then translate to a combined savings and revenue of 33.4 billion per year to our economy that is facing record deficits in the trillions. In fact this idea of legalizing marijuana is so well received by the economic community that over 500 top economists including three Nobel Laureates have co-signed an open letter to the President, Governors, Senators and State Legislators. In the letter it states:
“The fact that marijuana prohibition has these budgetary impacts does not by itself mean prohibition is bad policy. Existing evidence, however, suggests prohibition has minimal benefits and may itself cause substantial harm.
We therefore urge the country to commence an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition. We believe such a debate will favor a regime in which marijuana is legal but taxed and regulated like other goods. At a minimum, this debate will force advocates of current policy to show that prohibition has benefits sufficient to justify the cost to taxpayers, foregone tax revenues, and numerous ancillary consequences that result from marijuana prohibition.” In fact, just just recently during a online town hall meeting hosted by YouTube, President Obama stated, for the first time for any sitting President, in regards to drug legalization,” I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” Although he is not in favor of legalizing marijuana, this is the first time ever that any President has shown support for a debate on the subject.
No one is suggesting that marijuana should be made legal for children. The same minimum age logic would apply to marijuana that would apply to alcohol and cigarettes. But the facts are clear. Anyone can obtain marijuana any time they want. The current laws are simply not a deterrent. Prohibition simply has not worked. It didn’t work for alcohol in the 1920’s and it isn’t working for marijuana in the 2012’s. The amount of money being spent in the billions far outweighs any perceived deterrent and every year we are losing revenue from a product that can be controlled and taxed exactly like alcohol and cigarettes are today. In Amsterdam, crime related to marijuana is virtually non-existent and there has been no increase in the use of marijuana due to its legalization. So how is it that Holland has it all figured out but we cant seem to?
CNBC- Marijuana USA