Should the government legalize marijuana for economic reasons?
Marijuana-related incarceration costs the US an estimated $1.2 billion/year (1). Police, DEA, and customs also add to the cost illegalization. So, savings could be achieved through decriminalization.
But legalization would open up a massive stream of revenue. The USA consumes roughly 14,000 metric tons of marijuana/year (2). Street price varies widely, but hypothetically let’s say $100/ounce (~$3.50/g). Government-regulated farms would probably cost a negligible fraction of that. So, let’s assume a post-legalization sales price of $3/gram, of which 80% is federal tax (the remainder being production, distribution, and vendor profit):
14,000mt = 14,000,000kg = 14 billion g x $3 x 0.80 = $33.6 billion. Of course, this is assuming that pre-prohibition levels were maintained.
Less tangible social benefits would include reduced incentive for gang crime, and reducing the ‘gateway drug’ effect (since marijuana users would no longer be purchasing from drug dealers).
And, just for the record, I don’t smoke marijuana, nor would I start if it were legalized.