How Bad Drug Policies Cost Americans Big Money

Activists Demonstrate In Favor Of Easing Arrests For Small Quantity Marijuana Possession

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Despite decades and generations of prohibition, marijuana is finally being decriminalized and offered on the open market. The history of the outlawed cannabis plant goes way back, all the way to early 1900s. In fact, before then, growing cannabis and hemp plants were encouraged by governments, as it provided an immensely durable material that had seemingly-limitless uses. Then, at some point in the 1920s and 1930s, cannabis became a pariah and was demonized in the eyes of the general public.

As crazy as it may seem (or not), marijuana’s criminalization saw its genesis in large part due to fear of immigrants entering the country from Mexico. This, coupled with the crippling economic conditions of the Great Depression, led to a swath of resentment towards Hispanic immigrants. ‘Studies’ were conducted linking marijuana to violent crimes, and also to the influx of immigrants, causing even more public fervor.

Eventually, marijuana, and its cousin, the hemp plant, were outlawed completely. While it may have seemed like a great idea at the time, it has been a drag on the United States economy, and had widespread effects across the world ever since. It’s impossible to even calculate or quantify the level of damage that has been done by simply outlawing a single plant. Of course, other plant-derived substances have been outlawed as well, including cocaine and heroin. But neither of those have been found to be as harmless as marijuana.

So what are these costs, exactly? They mostly fall under the umbrella of one of two categories: lost revenue in terms of proceeds from sales and taxes, and the enormous cost of enforcing anti-drug laws.