Harvard Prof on Decriminalization


Harvard Prof Jeffrey Miron
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  • Harvard Prof Jeffrey Miron
Remember last year, when BW asked the question: Is Idaho Ready for Medical Marijuana? Well, it looks like maybe not, though Rep. Tom Trail, a Republican from Moscow, promises to make an effort once more.

We wrote about Trail's bill medical marijuana bill this week.

While researching the article, Unda' the Rotunda caught up with Harvard Economics Professor Dr. Jeffrey Miron, an outspoken advocate for the legalization of marijuana. Miron estimates that Idaho spends roughly $38 million a year on fighting marijuana. The United States, as a whole, spent more than $10 billion a year on controlling marijuana in recent years.

If the United States were to legalize marijuana and tax it, just as they do now with alcohol, the potential new revenue, in addition to savings could be in the neighborhood of $10-14 billion, according to Miron and his study. Idaho could realize $10.48 million in tax revenue, Miron estimates.

"On any dimension, it doesn’t make sense to prohibit it. Inevitably, some people will abuse the substance. Some people will drive under the influence of marijuana, just like they do with alcohol. That’s why policies would be created to punish those who drive under the influence of marijuana. However, it doesn’t make any sense to limit use by people that doesn’t hurt anybody else," Miron said.

Miron says that government control over the drug would be more effective than a ban of the substance entirely.

"I've done a lot of research by looking at it with economic tools; looking at the way that prohibition encourages drug use. I think that a substantial fraction of the homicide and other violence in the US is a result of prohibition. If you think about reports from the newspaper and other media organizations, an awful lot of those reports are not drug-related, but factually drug prohibition related. They’re drug wars over turf, gang disputes; possession charges…" Miron said.

State sales tax has been imposed on medical marijuana in some states generating $200 million in California alone, according to Anita Gore of the California Board of Equalization. Studies have suggested that on top of that sales tax, an extra "sin tax" or excise tax could be placed on the substance as well, were it sold, regulated and distributed to adults just like alcohol.

"I think it comes from the fact that if you push some things into underground markets, people can’t solve their disputes with lawyers, they solve their disputes other ways. If you drive something underground, you also drive up the price… that’s what drives up the cost. Their costs drive up the price of illicit activities, you have to conduct in secret, you have to bribe the police, instead of just selling in a store," Miron said.