How Much Does Marijuana Prohibition Actually Cost?


Marijuana is not just big business, it’s huge business.

Colorado, for instance, made more than $70 million in cannabis tax revenue, almost double what it made from alcohol (a mere $42 million). Oregon made more than $11 million in the first week alone, and Washington expects marijuana revenues to bring in more than $1 billion dollars in the next four years.

Legalizing cannabis can be hugely profitable. So how much does marijuana prohibition actually cost?

In a 2005 report by Harvard economics professor James Miron, combined savings and tax revenues in a single year could be between 10 and 14 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a “B.” And his study had some serious backing to it – more than 530 economists including three Nobel Laureates in economics endorsed Miron’s report.

According to his report, more than $7.7 million dollars could be saved just in prohibition enforcement costs – police officers, sting operations, drug dogs, etc. In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that it cost the government more than $3.6 billion dollars to enforce drug possession laws and sentence criminals.

But even all those numbers don’t describe the whole picture. There are smaller, human costs as well. A 2014 New York Times report found that even though blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rates, blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested.  In Iowa, that number jumps to 8.3 times, and in the worst offending counties, that number reaches up to 30 times more likely.

Previous non-violent offenses combined with even one charge of possession can lead to logic-defying prison sentences. A Missouri man named Jeff Mizanskey with two previous non-violent offenses was sentenced to life in prison following his possession charge (which comes with an annual $90 thousand bill for the state).

Even ignoring the economic benefits of legalizing marijuana, prohibition itself, with all of it’s punitive measures, is a huge financial weight on America’s government. States across the nation have already seen economic benefits from legalization, but nationwide legalization could result in even larger benefits.


Live in a state without prohibition? Check here for the best deals on medical and recreational marijuana.


Care to read more? Check out these stories:

Where Do the Candidates Come Down on Cannabis?

Obama Set to Release Record Number of Non-Violent Drug Offenders

Colorado, the Poster Child of Legal Marijuana


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