Barack Obama the man is enlightened enough to understand that marijuana laws are archaic, draconian and a major state and federal tax burden. He also understands that marijuana prohibition is a multi-billion dollar business for the corrections industry. Barack Obama the politician, the candidate, likely enforces these laws for political expediency so as to court voters who are anti-drug—the religious and the culturally conservative. The party poopers.
Beer, alcohol and tobacco corporations, not to mention police unions and pharmaceutical companies, all lobby to keep marijuana illegal, as witnessed in the defeat of California’s Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana. Opponents, using beer, alcohol, tobacco and police money, all ran ads to defeat it.
Just as Obama the politician has shown a lack of courage, or perhaps interest, in making heads on Wall Street roll—not wanting to piss of his corporate benefactors—Obama the politician has done exactly what lobbyists and any puritanical or culturally-conservative swing voters have wanted by launching a mass of federal raids just as the 2012 presidential election ramps up. It’s pure electoral cynicism.
Obama must harbor some shame at being framed by the right wing as a cultural revolutionary, so he feels he must respond in kind with a regressive, culturally conservative action.
However, over 530 disginguished economists being led by Jeffrey A. Miron, a visiting professor of economics at Harvard University, and including three Nobel Laureates, Milton Friedman, George Akerlof and Vernon Smith, have been calling for a debate about the legalization of marijuana. In fact, they’ve sent an open letter to the President, Congress, governors and state Legislatures, and the answer from Obama has been a campaign of federal raids.
The economists issued a report (in 2005) called “The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition” that states the US government would save billions by legalizing pot. The report has resurfaced recently with the 4/20 “holiday” approaching and the cloud of federal raids still looming over the nation.
According to the group’s website:
The report shows that marijuana legalization — replacing prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation — would save $7.7 billion per year in state and federal expenditures on prohibition enforcement and produce tax revenues of at least $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like most consumer goods. If, however, marijuana were taxed similarly to alcohol or tobacco, it might generate as much as $6.2 billion annually.
The group of economists is calling on the country to have an “open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition,” noting that prohibition is not necessarily bad policy, but neither is it good. They state that “existing evidence, however, suggests prohibition has minimal benefits and may itself cause substantial harm.” It seems that Obama’s idea of an open and honest debate is best expressed with federal storm troopers knocking down the doors of medical marijuana dispensaries. Obama even targeted Richard Lee, an advocate of marijuana legalization.
According to the report’s executive summary, “legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition. $5.3 billion of this savings would accrue to state and local governments, while $2.4 billion would accrue to the federal government.” The report also estimates that legalization would “yield tax revenue of $2.4 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like all other goods and $6.2 billion annually if marijuana were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.”
These, however, might be conservative estimates. Economist Stephen Easton wrote in a 2009 Businessweek op-ed that “total spending on marijuana may add up to $45 billion to $110 billion a year,” which would allow the country to could “raise $40 billion to $100 billion in new revenue.” None of this seems to matter to either Obama or really anyone on Capitol Hill aside from some Libertarians like Ron and Rand Paul, and former GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson, who issued a public statement in which he observed, “With 50% of Americans open to the idea of legalization, why won’t the ruling class at least let us have the conversation?”
Of course, as noted above, economists and marijuana activists will have to reckon with an entrenched system that profits off of incarceration, as well as lobbyists from the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, which have no doubt helped pot remain illegal. And now they must also reckon with a president who may believe he’s simply enforcing current marijuana laws, but in truth is acting like a born-again Christian who wants to stop everyone else from having a little fun and relaxing. In fact, perhaps he launched the federal raids as a little quid pro quo to the aforementioned industries’ lobbyists in return for their electoral support.
Unlike a great many cultural conservatives, however, Obama knows the pleasures of blazing. He should know better.
Read the full Miron & Co’s full report here.