Of the many arguments that support marijuana’s legalization, the one most often overlooked is that marijuana prohibition distracts the public from more important issues and diverts public funds from more pressing and vital problems.
Indeed, while it is a compelling argument and often effective to deconstruct the logic of marijuana prohibition, there are other ways to look at its costs.
As the legalization debate is transformed by the success of state-level ballot initiatives and the emergence of a quasi-legal industry, it becomes necessary to recognize how the scope of the debate is changing. The arguments that have produced these successes are not necessarily the arguments that will ultimately result in national legalization. Marijuana prohibition should be characterized as a choice, a poor choice certainly, but also as a choice compared to something else.
But what else?
There are many things that could be done with the resources squandered on marijuana prohibition, but none more important than the need to attack global sex trafficking.
According to the U.S. Department of State, between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders annually, and if trafficking within countries is included, between two and four million people are sold in this international slave market every year.
The United Nations reports nearly half of all human trafficking is for sexual exploitation and that 71 percent of these victims are women or girls. Overall, there are an estimated 10 million children victimized by what has been estimated as a $20 billion-a-year industry, with the number of child victims increasing by a million each year.
David Kaplan and Alec Dubro, in their 2003 book on organized crime in Japan, also reported that between 700,000 and two million women and children are trafficked globally each year. And unlike drugs and guns, prostitutes can be sold again and again.
Siddharth Kara is the author of Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery and a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center Initiative to Stop Human Trafficking.
According to Kara: “When we consider that the weighted average acquisition cost of a trafficked sex slave is $1,900 and the weighted average annual profits generated through the commercial sexual exploitation of that slave is $29,210, it is clear that the return on investment is staggering.”
This is just the annual profit. According to Kara’s calculations in the United States, the average acquisition cost for a slave is $5,000 and “that same slave will generate profits exceeding $135,000 for the exploiter before she escapes, is freed, or perished.”
While the profits from global sex trafficking are immense, there is no real risk for those involved in this criminal trade. While many countries have enacted new laws against trafficking in recent years, the basic penalty for sex slavery in India, for example, is a $44 fine for owning a brothel. Neither Italy, Denmark or Thailand have fines for sex trafficking. Jail terms in many countries are short and often reduced if small fines are paid.
Where there are stiff penalties, there are also challenges to prosecution, such as poorly defined statutes, corruption, lack of international cooperation and inadequate law enforcement.
The risks are low, but the potential profits are immense.
Kaplan and Dubro agree, “Not only is the sex business profitable, but penalties are less severe than those for moving guns or drugs. “
Kara argues that “The U.S. government could lead by example, but at present, the U.S. spends approximately $20 per human trafficking victim per year—and just $2 per slave per year—to combat these crimes, and around 350 times this amount to fight drug trafficking.“
This is worth repeating, the U.S. government spends 350 times more on drug trafficking than on human trafficking.
Marijuana prohibition is a choice. So is neglecting the issue of sex trafficking.
Pot or sex, which trade is it more harmful to individuals and society? Why can’t we legalize marijuana and allocate the savings to fight the global sex trade and help its victims?