In our most recent podcast, “Are We Ready to Legalize Drugs? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions,” we discussed drug legalization. Here’s what Steve Levitt had to say on the benefits of legalizing marijuana, as compared to crack cocaine:
So crack cocaine is a really devilish drug because it gives you such an intense high for such a short period of time that your desire is just to get high over and over and over. It’s highly addictive, and it’s really hard to function when you’re a crack addict. But what it makes me think is that this experimentation we’re doing now with policy towards drugs like marijuana, and potentially it would be expanded over time is a good idea. Because I think when it comes to marijuana, the social costs of the prohibition of marijuana are just really low. Very few people in the United States are being killed over marijuana. The gangs are not making their money off marijuana. Marijuana in some very real sense is too cheap. It’s too easy to grow yourself and so it isn’t the source of all of the ills that come with prohibition. And so, so the gains of legalizing marijuana for society are much smaller than the gains would be to legalizing cocaine if you could control how the outcome came.
But does marijuana legalization really harm anyone? Like poor minorities, for example? Michael Kinsley, Andrew Sullivan, and David Frum recently debated that question, as well as legalization in general, for Bloggingheads TV. In an accompanying blog post, Sullivan points to Reihan Salam‘s recent post on the subject:
To say that we ought to legalize marijuana because marijuana doesn’t hurt anyone is to discount the fact that legalization will cause a collapse in the price of marijuana and that this price collapse will lead to an increase in consumption that will have unpredictable, and uneven, consequences…It seems likely, however, that a post-legalization world would also harm poor people more than rich people, and black people more than non-black people, albeit via different channels. In both cases, it is people raised in chaotic households, people who suffer from poor impulse control, and people who live in violent, high-poverty neighborhoods who will suffer the most. That is why the way we regulate marijuana should be informed by an effort to protect these populations. Full commercial legalization is not the best way to do that.