Legalize drugs: conservative reasons

Legalizing drugs means saving money spent on enforcement, making money from taxes, and limiting the role of government in individual choices. What's an economic conservative not to like?

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    Cops spoke in favor of legalizing marijuana at a press conference on Sept. 13 in Los Angeles organized by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of police officers, judges, and prosecutors who support Proposition 19, the California ballot measure to control and tax Cannabis (Marijuana). From left, Stephen Downing, retired LAPD deputy chief, William Fox, former deputy LA County DA, former Torrance PD beat cop and drug identification expert Kyle Kazan, at podium; and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray, right.
    Damian Dovarganes / AP / File
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We are, in troubled times such as these, supposed to put everything on the table aren't we? Question not just how government does things, how many people it employs to do so, but also what government does and whether it should even be trying to do it?

Yes, I thought so too so allow me to suggest one of my pet points. We should legalise and then tax drugs: all of them.

This report estimates that legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition...(...)...The report also estimates that drug legalization would yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually, assuming legal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco.

We're a little over 1/5th of the US by population and perhaps a little under a 1/5th by GDP: then again we tax booz'n'baccy more highly than they do. The net revenue of such a change would therefore be around the £20 billion mark for the UK budget. That's a pretty handy chunk of change that's being left lying there in the street really, a free feast rather than that free lunch which we're so often told doesn't exist (and indeed, in most versions of economics such free lunches do not exist: we have to add the stupidity and perversity of puritans and politicians to the system to see where they are created).

But let us also appeal to the higher values, not just those of lucre. As the man said:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right...The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns him, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

It's not often that we get to both sort out the financial mess left by the previous Labour Government and also increase freedom and liberty at the same time. But we do have that opportunity now: let's take it, shall we?

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