by Aaron Houston
Director of Government Relations
annual rush to file our tax returns — April 17 this year, due to quirks of the
calendar — is a good time to think about how those dollars get used, and how
they get wasted. No one, on the political left or the political right, likes
the idea of pouring tax money into programs that are proven failures.
And proven failure
number one is America's
war on marijuana.
Consider this: From
1982 to 2005, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's Domestic Cannabis
seized over 103 million marijuana plants. In
recent years, an average of over 33,000 cultivation sites per year have been
eradicated, representing a massive investment of law enforcement dollars and
The result? According
to federal government estimates, in roughly the same time period, annual U.S. marijuana
production increased from 1,000 metric tons to 10,000 metric tons.
To put this in
perspective, a study released late last year
(based entirely on government
figures) found that marijuana is America's number one cash crop by a
whopping margin. With an estimated value of $35.8 billion in 2006, our
marijuana crop exceeds the value of corn ($23.3 billion) and wheat ($7.45
politicians would react if this were a program to eradicate, say, unemployment.
If after two and a half decades, the result were a 1,000 percent increase in
unemployment, the howls of "big-government boondoggle!" would be
heard all the way from Washington,
D.C., to the next galaxy.
government's 2007 National Drug Control Strategy
— released by the White House
in February — touts the "eradication" of over 6 million marijuana
plants last year, but ignores the complete failure of this program to actually
impact the marijuana supply.
Ah, some might say,
but maybe it's still worth it if we're keeping marijuana away from kids.
there is no sign of success there either.
According to the
federal government's 2006 Monitoring the Future survey
, 84.9 percent of high school
seniors report that marijuana is "easy to get." That is virtually
unchanged from 1975, the first year the survey was done, when the figure was
87.8 percent. In all the years since, the "easy to get" figure has
never dropped below 82.7 percent.
But this isn't the
only way our government wastes money in its war on marijuana. Since 1998, the
White House drug czar's office has poured nearly $3 billion dollars into a Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign
that has been dominated by anti-marijuana ads, including ridiculous spots featuring teenagers under the influence of
marijuana committing violent crimes.
Doubts about the effectiveness of the campaign were raised as early as 2002,
and have only grown since then.
Following an Aug. 25,
2006, assessment by the U.S. Government Accountability Office
effectiveness of the ad campaign, the National Institute on Drug Abuse
released an evaluation of the ad campaign that had been kept under wraps for a
year and a half. The report found that the anti-marijuana campaign has not only
failed to reduce teen marijuana use, but it actually increased marijuana use
among certain adolescents.
That data — also
paid for with your tax dollars — might have stayed buried forever if the GAO
hadn't forced its release.
So what's the alternative to this failed war on marijuana?
Contrary to claims by Drug Czar John Walters, the alternative isn't
"surrender," it's common-sense regulation: Take marijuana out of the
criminal underground and establish sensible controls.
Treat it like we do
alcoholic beverages, with everyone involved licensed and required to follow a
strict set of rules. Educate teens about the dangers of drugs with materials
that treat them with respect and present the facts honestly.
A sensible marijuana
policy would save billions of dollars and leave everyone better off.
Houston is director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in