Nine states and Washington, DC, have legalized recreational marijuana, with at least three more states (Connecticut, Michigan, and Ohio) likely to vote on legalization by the end of 2018. Dozens of others have decriminalized the substance or permitted it for medicinal use. Moreover, amid the nation's ongoing opioid crisis, some advocates and politicians are calling to decriminalize drugs more broadly and rethink our approach to drug enforcement.
Drug legalization affects various social outcomes. In the debate over marijuana legalization, academics and the media tend to focus on how legalization affects public health and criminal justice outcomes. But policymakers and scholars should also consider the fiscal effects of drug liberalization. Legalization can reduce government spending, which saves resources for other uses, and it generates tax revenue that transfers income from drug producers and consumers to public coffers.