By Scott Sumner
Tyler Cowen linked to a Wonkblog post that suggested pot legalization has not had the negative effects that drug warriors predicted:
National surveys have shown that teen marijuana use rates are falling across the country. But there haven’t been many numbers available specifically for states such as Colorado and Washington where it is legal. Federal data released late last year showed that teen use rates in Colorado and Washington were essentially flat, but they covered only 2014, the first year commercial marijuana was available in those states.
The latest data from Colorado includes 2015, reflecting two full years of the legal marijuana market’s effect. These numbers give the strongest indication yet that fears of skyrocketing adolescent use have not materialized.
Here are some of the groups opposed to pot legalization:
Among the groups opposing marijuana legalization in the state are the California Hospital Association and the California Correctional Supervisor’s Association. The state’s report on the measure’s fiscal impact on state and local government shows it could save “tens of millions of dollars to potentially exceeding $100 million annually” due to savings in the courts, police and corrections.
Of course, saving money on corrections means a loss of income to corrections officers. On the other hand there are lots of people with no direct financial stake in the war on drugs, who nonetheless favor keeping pot illegal. The question is why? And does the fact that pot legalization seems to have worked in Colorado lead these people to change their minds?
After all, the proponents of the drug war admitted that the costs were high; lots of people get imprisoned, families are split, there’s a huge financial cost, it tends to increase corruption in police departments, entire Latin American nations become torn apart. I think everyone agrees that these are large costs. But the drug warriors say the costs associated with pot legalization are even worse. OK, so why aren’t those massive costs showing up in Colorado?
Let’s change the subject a bit, and consider three policy choices:
1. The 2003 Iraq War (or Vietnam, if you prefer).
2. The prohibition on pot.
3. The prohibition on the sale of kidneys.
I’d like to suggest that the first case is different from the last two, in one important respect. After the Iraq War, there was a fairly general sense that the war had been a mistake. There was a sense of remorse over a needless cost of 1000s of American lives, and even more Iraqis.
I’m going to predict that if and when pot and kidney sales are legalized, and widely accepted to be the right policy, there will be no similar sense of remorse. Supporters of the war on drugs will not feel a sense of remorse that 1000s were imprisoned for no good reason. If that sense of remorse were going to show up, I’d already expect it to be in evidence by now. Society tends to feel bad when DNA evidence shows that an innocent person was imprisoned. But society seems just fine with imprisoning people in many states, for activities that are perfectly legal in a growing number of states. (By yearend, that may include many more, including California.)
If kidney sales are legalized, many 1000s of lives will be saved each year. These will be people who now die due to the influence of lobbies such as the AMA. If kidney sales are later legalized, and the policy is seen as working, will the AMA feel a sense of remorse? I doubt it, but I’m not sure why.
In the comment section I’m looking for how others see these issues. Not in the sense of whether legalizing drugs or kidney sales are good ideas, but rather how society will react if they are eventually shown to be good ideas. Will there be remorse?