The case for prohibiting marijuana was never strong. It is a mind-altering drug, but no more so than alcohol, and it is considered less likely to induce violent behavior, and in general to have less destructive effects on the heavy user, the “addict.” There is little evidence that it is a “gateway” drug, in the sense that use of it induces the user to “progress” to more harmful drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, LSD, heroin, or, for that matter, alcohol; in fact there is evidence that marijuana is largely a substitute for alcohol. While prohibition doubtless deters many young people from using marijuana, it seems unlikely that young people with strong addictive propensities, for whom consumption of an addictive drug might be destructive, are deterred. Legalization would undoubtedly increase the use of marijuana unless very heavy taxes were imposed (which would in turn give rise to a black market, thus largely undoing the effects of legalization), but probably not the number of addicts. Actually, the emergence of a black market would be unlikely unless very heavy taxes were imposed on the sale of marijuana, given the natural consumer preference for a legal, FDA-regulated drug over an illegal one.
Although some 58 percent of Americans believe that recreational use of marijuana should be made legal, law enforcement activity aimed at discouraging marijuana use continues at a high level, with some 750,000 persons being arrested every year on marijuana charges, almost 90 percent for possession rather than for production or distribution. Despite the threat of criminal punishment (though punishment for mere possession, other than possession with intent to distribute, is largely nominal), the American market for marijuana is very large — some $36 billion a year (that’s the conservative estimate: estimates range as high as $113 billion). (More)