Recently, researchers looked at some of the most common reasons given for supporting the legalization of marijuana. They also reviewed some of the rhetoric used to justify maintaining marijuana prohibition.
In their study, Public perceptions of arguments supporting and opposing recreational marijuana legalization, the authors discovered that the best messages for garnering support for legalization are economic. Almost 64 percent of the respondents felt messages about marijuana’s ability to raise tax revenue for the state were the most compelling reasons to vote for legalization.
The second-highest rated argument for legalization at 63 percent support was the idea that marijuana legalization is going to help reduce prison overcrowding.
That message, however, is matched in support for the highest-rated reason to oppose marijuana legalization. Again, 63 percent of the respondents felt that the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal was the best reason to maintain marijuana prohibition.
Other messages didn’t resonate as well with those surveyed. That legalization will fail to end the black market for marijuana was cited by 57 percent of respondents as a good reason to keep prohibition intact.
Faring worst in convincing people to reject marijuana legalization were the arguments centered on protecting public health. Only 52 percent found the notion of legalization contributing to a rise in automobile crashes to be a good reason to vote no on legalization, while just under 50 percent believed that protecting the health of our youth was reason enough to keep arresting adults who smoke pot.
This survey may be good news to other states looking to legalize marijuana. However, I fear that the most compelling reason to legalize marijuana hasn’t been mentioned yet, and if we fail to address it, the effectiveness of these other arguments is going to fade.
When people see the news about Colorado raking in $1.3 billion in marijuana sales leading to almost $200 million in taxes, it’s no wonder why nearly two-thirds of the study’s respondents favored revenue arguments for legalization.
But those revenues are based on taxing ounces of marijuana that cost about $200. As marijuana’s wholesale price begins to fall due to increased production in more legal states, especially California, there won’t be as much tax revenue to be raised.
There will come a point where the price of marijuana falls so low that its taxation barely covers the cost of its regulation. The lower it falls, the costs of security, testing, inspections, licensing and other overhead become a greater proportion of the price.
While the states struggle to maintain a price of marijuana artificially high enough for them to keep the revenue flowing, the black market will succeed in undercutting the taxed-and-regulated prices. This will amplify that 2nd-best reason for supporting prohibition—that legalization won’t end the black market.
The most compelling reason to legalize marijuana is because its prohibition is just wrong, period. No entity has the authority to tell me what I may or may not do with my own body and mind so long as that activity hurts no others.
We don’t base someone’s right to get a tattoo, a piercing or a haircut based on whether taxing those professions makes the state some revenue. We don’t stop people from exercising, meditating or masturbating because those activities don’t make any money for the government. There are no economic arguments involved because freedom is not determined by cost-benefit analyses.