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Fed Drug Czar: Pot Needs to Be Illegal to Keep Prices High, Reduce Demand

Keeping marijuana illegal is tantamount to taxing it—and that’s just fine with R. Gil Kerlikowske, federal drug czar, who says the high price discourages consumption by young people.

His bizarre logic also admits that the profits of pot go into the hands of criminals, instead of enriching government coffers, like standard taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Let’s look at what the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said in a March 4 speech in San Jose, CA, titled Why Marijuana Legalization Would Compromise Public Health and Public Safety:

Controls and prohibitions help to keep prices higher, and higher prices help keep use rates relatively low, since drug use, especially among young people, is known to be sensitive to price.

The relationship between pricing and rates of youth substance use is well established with respect to alcohol and cigarette taxes. There is literature showing that increases in the price of cigarettes trigger declines in use.

It makes little sense that we are doing something we know keeps prices, and therefore profits, very high for a product that can only be sold by criminals. But let’s move on to the really twisted logic of his argument.

Kerlikowske is saying we need to maintain marijuana prohibition because we need to keep marijuana prices high to reduce youth use. And his proof that keeping cannabis prices high through prohibition does that is how effectively we have reduced use of legal cigarettes among young people by using a simple system of legal taxation to keep the price high. Citing proof that taxation is also an effective way to keep prices high and reduce use is considered part of a legitimate argument against legalizing, regulating and taxing cannabis.

So he is saying we can keep the price of a product high (be it cannabis or tobacco) with prohibition or strong taxation. So why not legalize and tax marijuana instead of prohibiting it? A regulated taxation system would bring in much-needed revenue and allow the government to oversee the industry. Prohibition, on the other hand, is incredibly costly to the government, increases our prison populations, hurts people by giving them criminal records and enriches criminal cartels. Yet Kerlikowske argues continued prohibition is the right solution.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at