Harvard study: Governments could gain $100 billion by legalizing all drugs

Harvard study: Governments could gain $100 billion by legalizing all drugs

VicesJuly 24, 2018 By Reilly Capps

Pass the joint and open up the books: America could get rich by legalizing all drugs and taxing them.

A study by Harvard University researchers estimated that state and local governments could boost their bottom lines by $107 billion a year.

The reason:

We currently spend $48 billion fighting the war on drugs.

We could potentially make $59 billion on taxing legalized drugs.

Add the savings to the earnings, and you're talking one-hundred-billion smackeroos, plus all the nitrous you can inhale.

The researchers call their conclusions "exciting." And not just because they're looking forward to an era of legal bath salts.

The researchers, working in collaboration with the libertarian Cato Institute, are encouraged by the tax revenues coming in from legal marijuana. In 2016, check it, Washington brought in $320 million in pot taxes; Colorado hauled in $247 million that year. Only whacked out stoners who've lost track of reality would have expected more.

[Teachers protest at the Colorado state Capitol in April, calling for higher salaries and increase funding for schools, prompting some voters to question where the state’s taxes on marijuana are going. AP Photo by Colleen Slevin.]

And they're stoked by how far marijuana arrests have dropped in Colorado and Washington. A new report by Police Quarterly says that ignoring marijuana has freed up the cops to solve other crimes. The potheads were right.

This is just the gains that would come to governments. Billions more would be made by the kratom shops, kava bars, Xanax lounges, 2c-b cuddle coaches, ayahuasca virtual reality theaters and so on.

The Harvard report doesn't go into details about how this country would go about legalizing and taxing all the drugs. Would crack be sold at the 7-Eleven? How much do you tax DMT? Do meth stores have to close by a certain hour, when we know full well that tweakers are doing most of their purchasing between 2 and 4 a.m., between their 16-hour shifts breaking down cardboard boxes at the Safeway?

These are questions that the paper, "The Budgetary Effects of Ending Drug Prohibition," does not attempt to detail. It does say, however, that all drugs would be taxed at rates comparable to alcohol and tobacco, and that "the majority of budgetary gains would likely come from legalizing heroin and cocaine." Heroin and cocaine are popular and addictive; few people talk about legalizing them — but the badasses at Harvard do.

There are a few brave souls venturing this bold step. Even the current leader of the United States once called for legalizing all drugs, saying in 1990 that the nation's drug enforcement is a "joke" and that "You have to legalize drugs to win (the drug) war."

Would there be costs the Harvard researchers don't consider?

A Wall Street Journal editorial by former drug czar John Walters warned that legalizing all drugs would cause more suffering, since, he wrote, "80 percent of child abuse and neglect cases are tied to the use and abuse of drugs."  

The World Bank estimates that if cocaine was legalized use would double; which would increase economic activity in the strippers-and-unregulated-securities sector of the economy, but would cost us money in ibogaine detox programs and septum reconstruction surgeries.

Harvard researchers note, on the contrary, legalizing drugs does not necessarily increase their use; Portugal, where all drugs are a-ok, snorts, shoots and drinks less than the U.K., where all brain-benders are verboten.

As marijuana legalization continues to prove itself a success, America will start to move toward legalizing more drugs: mushrooms could be next, and then other safe(ish) drugs like LSD and ketamine.

Will America ever legalize cocaine and heroin, though? Given how dangerous, expensive and addictive they can be? It seems like a longshot. But these researchers argue that the numbers say that we should.

[Cover photo by Shutterstock.]