Chasing marijuana users comes at too high a cost

A supporter of legalized marijuana holds up a small blunt at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colo. Commentator Todd Buchholz says decriminalizing marijuana could help ease a taxpayer burden.

I consider myself tough on crime, but every time I wait in a slow, snaking line at the airport, I wonder why we're wasting so many public dollars chasing down marijuana users?

Now I've never touched the stuff, but at a time of exploding budget deficits, keeping pot illegal costs taxpayers a ridiculous amount of money. Nearly half of all U.S. drug arrests are for marijuana. Don't we have better ways of deploying our police than sending them after people toking on some dried out vegetable? By chasing after users and sellers, we actually incite more crime. If you lock up a seller and create a shortage of pot, the price goes up, right? Well, when the price goes up, that inspires more growers and dealers to enter the trade because the profits are even higher. This is not Adam Smith on drugs.  This is Adam Smith stone-cold sober.

Here's another way to look at it. Coffee is addictive, right? But you don't see murderous trafficking in it. If we banned coffee, you'd find 100 million Americans trying to corner Howard Schultz in an alley outside a boarded up Starbucks: "Hey, score me a mochachino. Leave the gun, take the latte."

A Harvard study showed that the U.S. would save nearly $8 billion by decriminalizing marijuana. Then there's every bureaucrat's favorite word: revenue. States could raise up to $6 billion by taxing the stuff. A friend assured me that three-quarters of those receipts would come from the extra sale of Doritos alone.

Now, I'm not suggesting that smoking marijuana is a good thing. It's not. It damages your lungs, toys with your chromosomes and might make you dopier. But let's face it, nearly 10 million people watch "Jersey Shore." There are plenty of ways to keep dopey people busy, without providing them with overnight lodging on your dime at your local jail.

About the author

Todd G. Buchholz is an American economist and author. He is a former senior economic adviser at the White House, a managing director of the $15 billion Tiger hedge fund, and an award-winning economics teacher.

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