Con: Why Kevin A. Sabet Is Against the Legalization of Marijuana
1 year ago
“The financial benefits of marijuana legalization would never outweigh its costs.”
In our Pro vs Con series, we ask two experts to weigh in on a hot button topic. . This week, we tackle the legalization of marijuana. Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D. is a drug policy consultant & TheFix.com contributor.
[ALSO READ: Half Of Americans Think Weed Should Be Legalized ]
Loop21: Do you think marijuana use and possession should be legalized in every state of the union? Why or why not?
Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D.: No. Promising everything from increased tax revenue and a cure for cancer, to a reduction of violence near the Mexican border and fewer criminal justice costs, legalization advocates have convinced almost half of America that their policy of choice is inevitable and desirable. But their arguments are high on hyperbole and low on facts. Rarely discussed are the potential downsides of such a policy, ranging from increased addiction to greater health and criminal justice costs. In fact, both of our two already legal drugs—alcohol and tobacco—offer chilling illustrations of how an open market fuels greater harms. They are cheap and easy to obtain. Commercialization glamorizes their use and furthers their social acceptance. High profits make aggressive marketing worthwhile for sellers. Addiction is simply the price of doing business. Would marijuana use rise in a legal market for the drug? Admittedly, marijuana is not very difficult to obtain currently, but a legal market would make getting the drug that much easier. Tobacco and alcohol are used regularly by 30% and 65% of the population, respectively, while all illegal drugs combined are used by about 8% of Americans. A recent report from the non-governmental RAND Corporation discusses how legalization and taxation of marijuana would lead to a decrease in the price of the drug, likely by more than 80%. While this conclusion is subject to a number of uncertainties, including the effect of legalization on production costs and price, and the federal government’s response to the state’s legalization of a substance that would remain illegal under federal law, it is fair to say that the price of marijuana would drop significantly. And because drug use is sensitive to price, especially among young people, higher prices help keep use rates relatively low. So under legalization we would see increases in use. Another RAND paper looked at the existing black market for marijuana, and the impact of legalization in Mexico. It concluded that the existing underground market for marijuana will not simply disappear if the drug is legalized and taxed. RAND also noted that legalizing marijuana would also place the dual burden on the government of regulating a new legal market, while continuing to pay for the negative side effects associated with an underground market whose providers have little economic incentive to disappear.
Loop21: Do you see legalization as a states’ issue, or a federal one? Why?
Sabet: Since legalization affects interstate commerce, I see it as primarily a federal issue.
Loop21: What are the pros of legalizing marijuana?
Loop21: What are the cons of legalizing marijuana?
Sabet: See above.
Loop21: Do you think we’ll see marijuana legalized nationwide in our lifetime? Why or why not?
Sabet: I don’t think so. Polls have gone up and down over the years, but nationwide legalization is still something both the electorate and elected officials are not comfortable with, and rightfully so.
Loop21: A recent Gallup Poll found that 50% of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, while 46% are against it. What role should public opinion play in this legal issue?
Sabet: There is no question that marijuana legalization has gained support over the last ten years, but the Gallup Poll has been used as “proof” that somehow America is ready for legalization. In fact, it is an anomaly among major U.S. polls. The CBS News Poll conducted three weeks after Gallup’s found only 40% support for legalization, with 51% against it. Polls right before Gallup, like Pew, Newsweek, AP-CNBC and others, have confirmed the fact that a majority of Americans are against legalization.