Amidst new reports indicating the economic cost of lost productivity from drug-related
incarcerations is considerably higher than the cost associated with drug use, this brief aims to
communicate our findings regarding the social and economic benefits of federal
decriminalization of marijuana.
Outlining The Problem
In 2010, the U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion battling the war on drugs, at a rate of
about $500 per second (Miron & Waldock, 2010). The number of people incarcerated for
nonviolent offenses increases every decade, with 50,000 behind bars in 1980 and over 400,000 in
1997 (Drug Policy Alliance, 2013). Drug offenders disproportionally account for over half of
inmates housed in federal prisons and currently, over 1 million people are incarcerated for
nonviolent drug offenses every year, with marijuana arrests accounting for over 700,000
incarcerations yearly (Hill, 2013).
Figure 1. State and federal prisoners by offense (2010)
Note. Retrieved from “The American Prospect”, by Paul Waldman, August 2013.
This is an inherent problem that cost Americans billions of dollars of tax money in the year 2000
alone, Americans spent $40 billion on prisons and jails, $24 billion of which was used to
incarcerate 1.2 million nonviolent offenders (Schiraldi, Holman & Beatty, 2000). Furthermore,
the states together spent approximately $3.6 billion in 2010 enforcing marijuana possession laws,
all the while failing to capitalize on potential tax revenue (Bradford, 2013).
The United States federal government must pass legislation decriminalizing marijuana
possession and cultivation, implementing a permit system on the later, thus opening the door for
full economic participation in the marijuana industry. Some will argue that marijuana is a
dangerous drug that acts as a gateway to other more damaging narcotics; however, the reality is
that by overplaying the potential harms of marijuana, policy-makers and law enforcers
undermine their credibility, as well as their ability to educate the public on other more serious
and harmful narcotics, such as heroin and methamphetamine (Armentano, 2005). As no serious
analyst suggests that drug use can be stopped or even significantly lowered (Hakim, 2011),
reform of policy should focus on minimizing cost wherever possible, while working to generate
profit for the economy.
Analysis of Options
When considering legislation reform, the government must review all policy options from an
economic, criminal justice, and human rights perspective
In looking to pass new legislation, the government must consider the economic benefits of
taxable marijuana. In a survey conducted by The US Department of Health & Human Services'