The Insane Economics Of Not Legalizing Marijuana In One Handy Infographic

There’s a lot of green in green. This infographic shows just how much money is falling through the cracks, and how much we’re spending to keep it underground.

With Ron Paul’s campaign fizzling, the idea that we might end the war on drugs is probably off the political table for the time being. The federal government (and many state governments) will continue to hunt down and prosecute marijuana growers and marijuana smokers. But, as you can see in this infographic about the faulty logic behind our ban on the drug, the government’s policies are resulting in a huge loss of income, without a commensurate increase in public health or safety.

What will happen to the children, concerned people ask, when confronted with the idea of a world filled with weed-smoking maniacs. Won’t our teenagers join an army of reefer-mad burnouts? We must protect them! But in states where marijuana is legal, the armies of reefer-mad burnouts have yet to materialize: 80% of the states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes have seen decreases in teen usage rates. Across the board, we have spent $33 billion on public service announcements to get kids not to smoke pot since 1969 and the rate of 12th graders who use marijuana is exactly the same as it was before we spent those billions:

In fact, the drug war doesn’t have much teeth at all, at least when it comes to marijuana. For one thing, it’s really easy to get. So easy, teenagers say it’s more accessible than alcohol, and kids have been getting alcohol quite easily for years:

Even assuming that legalization might cause an increase in teen drug use, think about what might be more important than children’s health: money. Lord knows that we, as a society, endanger our kids’ health in exchange for large sums of money all the time. And marijuana has the potential to be a huge source of cash; it already is for the underground economy in which it operates. In fact, it’s the most lucrative agricultural product in the entire country. In 12 states, it’s the largest cash crop the state produces. In more than half the states, it’s one of the top five products. That’s a lot of potential tax revenue going to waste.

And it’s not just that we’re losing potential cash. We’re also spending a lot of money to hunt down the farmers and consumers, which means the increase in revenue would be incredibly large: almost $21 billion on top of the money from actually selling the drug.

The infographic doesn’t dwell on the public health concerns of legalization. And they surely exist. The world would probably be a better place if no one was ever intoxicated. But we don’t really have that collective will power. We might as well make money off our vices. Check out the full infographic here or see it below:

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  • Antony Goddard

    I wish something could be done to include World Wide data here. How many wars are being fought by finance obtained through illegal drugs (cocaine, marijuana, opium, etc). There are reports that Bashir Al Assad's toughmen aka shaheeha are being financed by hashish smuggling. Others point the finger at Talabin and Al-Qaeda fundraising, not to mention Latin American cartels.

    I can see from the rest of the website that you need source data to make infographics, and dealing with illegal drugs is not easy. Please keep up this work. It needs improvement at this stage.

  • Dr.Love

    Look, we get it. The idea of making something natural illegal is absurd. If you really care about changing the current views, stop making obvious "infograms" and start doing something productive. We all understand that the illegality of marijuana is insane... But stupid "infograms" aren't going to change shit. 

  • Antony Goddard

    I agree about 30% with Dr Love. However your "infograms" are the but the first step. At least we have Seattle in your top list of US cities in a state that voted for legal marijuana :) Maybe bump up Seattle.

  • Safetyfirst

    Keeping this drug illegal is pushing it to underground and shady criminals who end up lacing the drug with whatever they want to which will get you addicted or add more weight to the product. The stuff they lace it with can cause many different health problems. If you suspect your kid may be smoking marijuana I strongly suggest you take a look at what they could end up smoking because of the government being greedy and trying to throw the issue under the carpets by saying there are more important issues. This has went on long enough as it is. We do not want these criminals to continue to control this relatively harmless substance. Please legalize and regulate it for the sake of our youth and our future.

  • Eric Weaver

    you should talk more abotu the major supports of the "war on drugs" the arms industry- homeland BS etc., privitilzed prison system...

  • valleyobserver

    These figures are always 'full of smoke'... it's the largest cash crop in all these states and worth billions of dollars because it is illegal... hello!  If it were legalized, produced corporately - like cigarettes, etc. --  the value per oz. would plummet exponentially. It wouldn't be worth much more than spinach to grow... but the government could subsidize the poor farmers... 

    Also, the extra $7billion from cafes and such is also BS... you can't evaluate this stuff in isolation -- it's a zero sum game... if i spend money in pot cafes, instead of in bars (goodbye alcohol tax), or coffee cafe (goodbye sales tax) -- the net consumer spend will stay roughly the same... I have x amount of disposable income - you can only tax so much before i'm broke... it's not an endless supply of new tax channels. 

  • raychel

    Valleyobserver, you are very wrong - It's not a zero sum game at all and to say so is absurd. Are you forgetting the overloaded and ineffective judicial system??? How much are we spending there??? Keeping non-violent offenders in prison while rapists and murderers get cut lose? That costs money all the way down the line. And the amount of money we'd save on that joke of a "war on drugs" - how about that?? What about all the jobs and revenue that would be created in this budding new industry?? And don't forget that smoking supplies would also be a huge new source if income/jobs/taxes. I never go to coffee places, but you can bet I'd be in a pot cafe, so that "theory" of yours is also inaccurate!  You are grossly misinformed or not able to see all sides of this situation. Or just stupid.

     Legalize already!!!

  • Dedmunky

    If black market spending comes into the open market, there will be additional revenue. Some of cannabis users' disposable income is spent, but it is currently unaccounted for and untaxed. It wouldn't always be a diversion from other industries. The cash flow is already there, just mostly hidden.

  • Jeff Followell

    Main reason it will never be legalized, is that the big Drug cartel's contribute to the re-election campaigns of those politicians who say they will keep it illegal and make the penalties more severe, that way they protect their client base and can increase prices. As long as it is illegal they make obscene amounts of money,legalize it and they lose money. Buy a politician for a million or so and guarantee hundreds of millions in profit. Simple self interest and greed on their part will keep it illegal.

  • idealistas

    I am in favor of legalization. But the big missing link to me in this infographic is that even if you legalize and regulate, the government will still need to enforce the regulation. How do they collect taxes from someone who sells friend to friend using plants they grow themselves? There will always be a 'black market' for non-regulated distribution. The US might not spend as much to arrest and jail offenders, but additional costs are going to abound in trying to legitimize the industry after years of illegal trading. I think this argument most likely overestimates the amount of money the US would save or gain, given the large amount of unknowns. However, the discussion is a rational one that can hopefully appeal to some in power to think about the potential for economic improvements, even if they are not quite so sensationally large as the numbers presented here.

  • Antony Goddard

    The rise of counterfeit drugs in the world calls for smarter regulation of all drugs. Sending people to jail for marijuana is a waste of resources when capitalism and high profits for pharmaceutical companies drives a trade in Chinese and Indian copies, some of which copy only the packet and capsule design, rather than the active drug.

    The harm done by fake contraceptive pills and anti-malarials contributes to major health problems. 

  • Gandalf7x

    Respectfully, I don't know about that hypothesis. We certainly don't make our own beer or other forms of "moonshine" in our bathtubs, do we? Why should we think that marijuana would be any different? It seems to me that just like ending prohibition emasculated many forms of organized crime of the day, legalizing weed might do the same thing. I'm not exactly what you'd call a regular user (I've probably used three or four times in my entire life) so I've got no agenda here, but study after study has basically proven that this stuff is all but harmless, and if the FDA actually had to regulate it, I'm sure it would be even safer. And taxable (insert the cash flow/"we need the money" argument here). It seems to me that we would actually be better off as a country if the stuff were legal. Yes, kids are still going to get their hands on it like they've always done. They simply have someone they know who's old enough purchase it for them. We have bigger fish to fry out there. Raiding mom's medicine cabinet for her Oxycontin or Vicodin is TEN TIMES as dangerous and practically impossible to regulate. This is what we need a genuine plan to address. The Carter administration was actually thinking about introducing a bill to legalize marijuana, but he was up for re-election. Shame. He got creamed by Reagan anyway. He should have gone "all in" and sent the bill to the hill. Maybe we wouldn't be having these silly discussions 35 years later.

    John R.

  • PR

     Sure... continue on using it and get to legalize it so we in Mexico increase the illegal weapon acquisitions that cartels use to fight to sell this and all sort of drugs. PAINFUL to see this. USA is not Holland, education and life quality levels have to increase before even thinking on legalizing something that may lead to other addictions.

  • Rick

    So we started spending money in 1969 and the allegation is that drug use among 12th graders has stayed the same, but the data on the chart begins at 1975.  No '69 data for comparison!?  Completely useless chart.

  • Dave

    Having a marijuana charge on one's record is more detrimental to a teenager than actually using the marijuana.

  • Jimbofla1138

    If it weren't for the Brewing/Distillery and legal Rx lobbies it would have long since been legalized. It's not completely benign, and I sure don't like associating with and depending upon the people who use it regularly -- it does effect how people think and interact, but locking people up for it and empowering all the drug war evil is not worth trying to suppress it's usage. 

  • Seekeroftruth

    If you do not believe the figures and information in this article, perhaps you will believe a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy and what people like Kofi Annon, George Schultz, and many other world leaders have to say on this topic.  

  • Mark Duran

    "The infographic doesn’t dwell on the public health concerns of legalization. And they surely exist. The world would probably be a better place if no one was ever intoxicated. "
    Just how would the world be a better place if no one was ever intoxicated. I think you're confusing intoxication as in being drunk on alcohol with being high on marijuana. The two are very different. Being high on marijuana is life-enhancing whereas being drunk on alcohol is more like being on anesthesia. 

    As for your concerns about public health, it's very significant that cancer research time and time again finds that THC actually kills many kinds of tumors including lung cancer tumors. In fact the incidence of lung cancers in long-term daily pot smokers is very close to non-smokers and this is according to the expanded study that NIDA did in Los Angeles (it disproved their previous small-scaled study). Australia's NIDA equivalent, researched 5000 fatal accidents and found that pot smokers had fewer fatal accidents than either drunks, the very tired or even the non-intoxicated normals. Ha! 

    With all the information we have about drugs and alcohol the two we must be most concerned about are of course legal-- alcohol and tobacco. 

    So to all you naysayers.... get over it.

  • Trinity Alps

    You don't know what you're talking about Chode, just spouting more of your lame opinions. Like I said above... get over it. 

  • Cindy Arnold Pierce

    I am not a "stoner" and I totally agree with Mark Duran.  I am not sure it is a gateway drug.  I think kids that are going to drink, smoke or do more will do more anyway.  The difference in marijuana and all other drugs, including alcohol and nicotine is that you can not get physically addicted to marijuana. No withdrawals to go through, nothing make you feel you have to have it. So, I am for legalizing it.