Pubdate: Mon, 09 Mar 2015
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2015 The Detroit News
Authors: Benjamin Powell and Audrey Redford
Note: Benjamin Powell is director of the Free Market Institute and 
professor of Economics in the Rawls College of Business 
Administration at Texas Tech University. Audrey Redford is a Ph.D. 
student in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at 
Texas Tech University.


Recreational marijuana use was legalized in Washington, D.C., and 
Alaska this year. D.C.'s legalization has prompted some congressional 
Republicans to try to undermine the city's reforms. However, the 
experience of states that have already legalized, and economic 
theory, both indicate that legalization creates more benefits than costs.

Recreational use and possession of marijuana up to 2 ounces is now 
legal in Washington, D.C., for individuals 21 and older (1 ounce in 
Alaska). Although the sale of marijuana is still illegal in D.C., 
gifts of up to 1 ounce are permitted. Marijuana must be consumed on 
private property and individuals are allowed to home grow up to six 
marijuana plants in both D.C. and Alaska. Alaska plans to allow 
marijuana retailer licensing beginning in 2016, but D.C. has not 
announced any plans to legalize the sale of marijuana.

This has angered congressional Republicans such as Rep. Jason 
Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina. Chaffetz 
and Meadows sent the mayor of D.C. a letter stating, "If you decide 
to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the 
District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law."

But one has to wonder why. Colorado and Washington state have had 
legalized marijuana since 2012 (stores and dispensaries first opened 
in 2014) and appear to be doing quite well.

Colorado experienced a 77 percent drop in marijuana court cases and 
an 81 percent decrease in petty possession charges. That freed up 
police resources to prevent other crimes. Denver violent crimes 
dropped between 2013 and 2014. Homicides were down 24.4 percent, rape 
down 2.5 percent, and robbery down 3.3 percent. Property crimes such 
as burglary were down 9.55 percent, theft from a motor vehicle was 
down 21.8 percent, and auto theft dropped 1.1 percent.

Nor did legalization lead to reckless behavior on the roads. Overall 
traffic fatalities in Colorado fell from 481 in 2013 to 466 in 2014.

But what about the kids? Survey data from Colorado in 2013 shows that 
teen marijuana use is on the decline. According to a new working 
paper by economist Jeffrey Miron, Colorado school suspensions and 
high school dropout rates have also been on the decline since 2012. 
Nor has illicit drug use by minors increased. Survey data indicates 
that rates of recent marijuana usage by 12- to 17-year-olds dropped 
slightly from 4.14 percent to 3.72 percent in Colorado and from 4.49 
percent to 3.70 percent in Washington between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

America's supply-side drug war has been failing for years. The demand 
for most drugs is not very price sensitive. As a result, supply-side 
wars drive up prices that do little to decrease consumption. 
Meanwhile, black market incentives drive suppliers to create ever 
more dangerous products.

The government spends more than $50 billion annually on the war on 
drugs and more than a half a million people are incarcerated in the 
United States as a result of drug convictions. Yet, few benefits are 
achieved from it. From 1971, two years before the creation of the 
Drug Enforcement Administration, to 2007, the rate of death from a 
drug overdose per 100,000 total deaths increased by a factor of 10.

Marijuana, as legalization advocates often point out, is one of the 
least dangerous drugs out there. Successful legalizations, like 
Colorado's, have encouraged five more states to put legalization on 
the ballot in 2016 and another five legislatures states to work on 
legalization bills.

Instead of hindering D.C.'s effort to legalize marijuana, Congress 
should be eliminating federal laws that are inconsistent with states' 
legalizations. In fact, evidence indicates that we would likely be 
better off if they legalized marijuana at the federal level, too.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom