Cost of marijuana


The recent passage of Proposal 1 shows that 55 percent of voting Michiganders understand the costs of marijuana prohibition and are ready to pursue evidence-based policies to reduce drug abuse, prohibition related violence and mass incarceration.

Marijuana prohibition enforcement costs American taxpayers $8 billion per year, over $5 billion of that coming from state and local budgets. In 2000, Michiganders spent $158 million for marijuana prohibition (considering enforcement, prosecution and incarceration)1. If marijuana sales are taxed similar to alcohol and tobacco, an additional $6 billion will come into American coffers with at least $30 million coming into Michigan1. This increase in revenue could be used to address the underlying social factors driving drug addiction in our community.

Legal drug use can lead to illegal drug use, the gateway drug hypothesis. However, it is the joint use of alcohol and tobacco (specifically nicotine) that is the gateway to later marijuana and cocaine use, leading to concern about the dramatic rise in e-cigarettes (vaping) amongst youth. When compared to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, marijuana remains low in terms of its’ addictive potential, individual and societal harm. Marijuana has been shown to be as addictive as caffeine yet less toxic than caffeine. This is not to suggest that marijuana use is safe. Rather, to outline a cost- benefit analysis for drug management policies.

Is our community at greater risk from the legalization of marijuana? According to CDC records, there are over 86,000 alcohol associated deaths per year and from 2006-2010 nearly 10 percent of all deaths in the U.S. were associated with alcohol consumption. No overdose death has yet been attributed to marijuana use. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 5-34. Yet, legalization of marijuana has resulted in a 10 percent decrease in traffic fatalities in states that have legalized marijuana. This decrease is thought to be caused by a move away from alcohol use after legalization of marijuana. Men under the influence of alcohol are eight times more likely to exhibit violence toward their partners. This is particularly important given that the number one cause of death for females globally is domestic violence. In the United States, a leading cause of death for females under that age of 24 is homicide, and it is most often perpetrated by male partners or husbands. Consumption of marijuana results in no greater tendency toward violence.

Our community suffers disproportionately from the influence of drugs and drug abuse. Prohibition and related policies have been shown to exacerbate the problem. It is important that we understand the data regarding drugs and addiction so our community can develop appropriate policies and programs to prevent drug abuse and aid recovery. Data-based programs, where implemented, have dramatically reduced the drug addiction rate, importantly for opioids.

This informed approach to drug abuse management has significant support by both the medical and law enforcement communities.

Dr. Renee Richer

Professor of Biology