Last week, the Chronicle reported on yet another record high number of marijuana arrests, with more than 800,000 people busted for pot last year. This week, a leading researcher put a price tag on marijuana prohibition: $41.8 million a year in law enforcement spending and lost tax revenues.
According to public policy and economic development analyst Jon Gettman of Drug Science, author of the report, Lost Revenues and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws, governments at all levels spend $10.7 billion on arresting, prosecuting, and punishing marijuana offenders. At the same time, by maintaining the policy of marijuana prohibition, those governments are forgoing an estimated $31.1 billion a year in lost tax revenues by keeping the $113 billion a year marijuana industry in the underground economy.
Gettman's analysis is based primarily on official government figures on US marijuana supply, prices, and arrests. Perhaps even more surprising than the costs associated with pot prohibition is the huge size of the domestic marijuana market, which Gettman pegs at more than 31 million pounds.
"This report documents a massive waste of taxpayer dollars in pursuit of eradicating a government-forbidden plant, and the financial waste hit all-time high levels last year, as the FBI just reported there were a record 829,627 marijuana arrests in 2006," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Prohibition has done nothing to reduce marijuana use, which remains at about the level it's been for decades, but prohibition has created a massive underground economy that's completely unregulated and untaxed. The parallels with Alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s, including the needless violence and a huge underground economy, are eerie."