29 March 2009

Tax the stoners! (and hookers!)

After writing this posting, it occurred to me that there's another huge sector of our economy which is currently tax-exempt, not because it has a legal privilege but because the whole industry is illegal: drugs. The consequences of our nation's draconian drug policy extend far beyond lost tax revenue, of course, to include the world's highest incarceration rate and the growth of organized-crime cartels powerful enough to threaten the governments of at least two large countries (Columbia and Mexico). To avoid the distraction of debating the harmful effects of harder drugs, my argument here is only for the legalization of the least harmful and most widely-used drug: marijuana.

Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, not only because it is less injurious to the body, but because it is less able to unleash rage and violence (a big part of the social cost of alcohol is its involve-ment in various kinds of violent behavior such as domestic abuse, rape, brawls, etc.). We've already tried banning alcohol and found that the harm caused by doing so is much greater than the harm caused by accepting it as a legal product. Like today's drug laws, Prohibition fueled the growth of organized crime and an explosion of violence as powerful crime gangs fought over turf and openly resisted government authority. If Prohibition had lasted as long as the War on Drugs has lasted, it's not inconceivable that alcohol-fueled mafias would have grown so rich and powerful that they could threaten the stability of our whole society and government, as the drug cartels have done in Columbia and Mexico.

With marijuana, at least, we should do exactly as we did with alcohol. Don't "decriminalize" it. Make it a fully legal product, legal to produce and sell. Regulate its manufacture and sale the same way the manufacture and sale of alcohol is regulated. Tax it as alcohol is taxed. Allow advertising, restricted in the same ways as alcohol advertising is restricted. Let every grocery store in the land sell the stuff, right next to the beer and wine aisle. And if you catch someone selling one joint to anybody under 18, throw him in prison. Age restrictions on alcohol work because it's legal. The corner store guy who makes good money selling beer legally has something to lose if he sells the stuff to a kid. The pusher doesn't care, since he goes to jail if the cops catch him, regardless of the ages of his customers.

Would legal marijuana be problem-free? No. Legal alcohol isn't problem-free either. As with alcohol, more people would smoke marijuana if it were legal, and there would be various social costs. The point is that, as with alcohol, those costs would be far less than the danage caused by banning it. There's no such thing as a reform which has no bad side effects at all. But reform can replace a set of much bigger problems for a set of much smaller ones.

With harder drugs such as cocaine or meth, there's at least a real argument that they are so dangerous that we're better off banning them than legalizing them (and I think there's a case for putting cigarettes in the same category, though that's a whole other issue). But we could deal with those things much more effectively than we are now if we weren't wasting vast resources going after marijuana. And -- to return to my main point -- government efforts to fight the recession would be buttressed by the tax revenues that a legal marijuana industry would generate.

Finally, a similar case could be made for legal, regulated, taxable prostitution. I have no idea how large a legal prostitution industry would be or how much tax revenue it would generate, but it seems clear that there are currently some fairly large cash flows going untaxed in that area. Prostitution, too, is saturated with sleaze, hard drugs, criminal involvement, and terrible abuses of sex workers, precisely because it is illegal and therefore beyond the reach of the regulation and legal protections which the state can extend to other industries and their workers.

Obama ran for office promising "change". It was never very clear what that meant, but can we at least try for "change" in areas where established practice is flagrantly idiotic and counterproductive and can obviously never achieve its claimed goal?

11 Comments:

Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

When you wrote "Dont decriminalize it....make it a fully legal product" I think you mean "criminalize" it instead, heh? Well anyone who know's me... know's for year's that I have alway's advocated the legalization and taxation of pot...for at least 30 year's now I reckon...I dont smoke pot no more and hadnt in year's...but only because it slow's me down now, and makes me cough.But I also been outspoken about legalization especially of prostitution, and full scale gambling especially in Texas....because it would make a small fortune here...because of our coast and it's great scenery and winter weather. But I am also for the legalization especially of coca/cocaine and opiate's/heroin. I have used both myself...and know first hand the addictive drive of it. This is the biggest problem in this border drug war...not the pot, although pot is just included...kind of like an appetizer. The cost of this drug war is gonna be an unending bill/invoice at the rate were going.I am for not only the legalization of cocaine/heroin....but the government take over of it (pot to me is a whole different ballgame, it can actually be a social drug and have public smoke club's/bar's) on the harder drug's...I look more at rehab/usage type communities for addict's....keeping the stuff in it's own government zones...and at the same time...offering to eliminate the addiction. The bottom line is....sure...alot of folk's use recreationally, but, once you get that "addiction" you have a whole different outlook of the drug...when you see how it own's you,and you are sick when you cant use.No one likes being a dope fiend...at that point...there is nothing no more fun or recreational about it...even if it was legal...no one would want to be a dope fiend...dope fiend's dont care if it's legal or illegal...or who sell's it to them or give's it to them...they only know that without it....it's hell...and they need it. I am sure that many would disagree with me on this...and I may not know alot about many thing's....but one thing I know very well is drug's. From cultivation,crystalization,manufacturing,cutting,especially smuggling, cooking and the work's. I dont talk about how I know this, because it's of my past...and I dont care to share it.

But nonetheless....a good post Sir. Thank You.

29 March, 2009 04:47  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Actually, "decriminalize" means to remove the current criminal penalties but stop short of full legalization. It's often mentioned as an option for marijuana. My point was that we should make it fully legal, like alcohol, not merely decriminalize it.

29 March, 2009 05:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

One disclaimer: By linking this posting and the "Tax the churches" one, I did not intend to put drugs and prostitution on the same moral level as religion. What drug dealers and prostitutes sell does at least provide tangible enjoyment to the customer. Churches push empty promises of post-mortem rewards that are completely imaginary.

29 March, 2009 05:33  
Blogger libhom said...

Legalization and taxation certainly would help the states out of their fiscal crises.

29 March, 2009 06:51  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Heh,heh,heh...I couldnt help laughing at this last portion of this disclaimer Mr.Infidel..."Churches push empty promises of post-mortem reward's that are completely imaginary". heh,heh,heh...it is kind of funny. A lil story to add here...I was in an accidental situation once, I was in a hospital as a result, that the ambulance took me to which was a catholic hospital. Some foreign nurse came in throughout the day...alway's pestering me...and giving me this doom and gloom look...she was ugly as a goddamn junkyard dawg too! What was irritating...is she wasnt even a doctor...yet all she said all the time....was..."It dont look good"..a real pessimistic nut at that! Then they had this goddamn in house tele station that was nun's and priest's preaching as if they were giving a pre-tour of heaven...but not hell, strangely enough...I mean...does everybody go to heaven? Anywayz...thing's didnt look to good at the time...I had bad internal bleeding as well. I mean...on one hand I was scared...then I was pissed, then just hoping to hold on to what life I had.A priest came into my room one day soon and asked if I would like to talk to him and prepare for the unexpected or whatever...you know...death! I really got pissed...and told him ..."Hell no!...I sure as hell dont want to die man...and I dont want to watch this damn in house tele station any more talking about death...I want to live...period.. guy...so please just leave me alone...okay?" Needless to say...I got lucky... doctor's actually called it a miracle,and were baffled more than I was as to what happened, they couldnt explain they told me....but all the bleeding just stopped...and the healing went into high gear. We never did find out what happened...but I did get damn lucky!

29 March, 2009 08:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

GLH -- especially my own state, Oregon. If the marijuana industry here is as big as they say, we might even be able to scrap our state income tax.

RC -- I know you -- If you ever are dying and need the last rites, they should send you a prostitute instead of a priest!

29 March, 2009 10:23  
Blogger mendip said...

One might argue that you're being redundant in taxing people who are prostitutes and/or hallucinating while also doing so to religions and churchs...
;)

29 March, 2009 11:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mendip -- Good point :-)

29 March, 2009 12:03  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Heh,heh,heh ....my goodness Mr.Infidel...you damn sure do know me I reckon! :)

30 March, 2009 05:09  
Anonymous legal marijuana said...

Even if marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, I still don’t think it should become legal. Look at the accidents that occur from alcohol use causes. Marijuana’s legalization is only justified for medical purpose.

13 April, 2009 12:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

The point is that, just as legal alcohol causes much less harm than Prohibition did, legal marijuana will cause much less harm than the laws against it now cause.

13 April, 2009 18:17  

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