Social and Economic Benefits of Marijuana Decriminalization

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Amidst new reports indicating the economic cost of lost productivity from drug-related

incarcerations is considerably higher than the cost associated with drug use, this brief aims to

communicate our findings regarding the social and economic benefits of federal

decriminalization of marijuana.

Outlining The Problem

In 2010, the U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion battling the war on drugs, at a rate of

about $500 per second (Miron & Waldock, 2010). The number of people incarcerated for

nonviolent offenses increases every decade, with 50,000 behind bars in 1980 and over 400,000 in

1997 (Drug Policy Alliance, 2013). Drug offenders disproportionally account for over half of

inmates housed in federal prisons and currently, over 1 million people are incarcerated for

nonviolent drug offenses every year, with marijuana arrests accounting for over 700,000

incarcerations yearly (Hill, 2013).

Figure 1. State and federal prisoners by offense (2010)

Note. Retrieved from “The American Prospect”, by Paul Waldman, August 2013.

This is an inherent problem that cost Americans billions of dollars of tax money in the year 2000

alone, Americans spent $40 billion on prisons and jails, $24 billion of which was used to

incarcerate 1.2 million nonviolent offenders (Schiraldi, Holman & Beatty, 2000). Furthermore,

the states together spent approximately $3.6 billion in 2010 enforcing marijuana possession laws,

all the while failing to capitalize on potential tax revenue (Bradford, 2013).






The United States federal government must pass legislation decriminalizing marijuana

possession and cultivation, implementing a permit system on the later, thus opening the door for


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Americans on responsible use.


Federal decriminalization of marijuana may be a daunting task for policy makers and legislators

to fund, write, and pass; however, as the U.S. continues to slide in worldwide education rankings

(Chappell, 2013), lead the world in incarceration rate (Vicini, 2006), and accrue trillions of

dollars of debt (US Debt Clock, 2014), tax revenue from marijuana distribution looks to be a an

excellent source of revenue for the government. As a record 58 percent of the population is in

favor of legalization, and research continues to emerge highlighting the medicinal and

recreational benefit of marijuana, hard politics emerge as the largest obstacle in

decriminalization and eventually full legalization of marijuana. The proposed policy

recommendations address all of these issues, and should be acted upon immediately.

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