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Majority of Americans Believe It’s Not Worth the Cost to Enforce Marijuana Prohibition, Poll Finds

A new survey finds that 65 percent of American adults feel that the costs associated with enforcing marijuana laws are higher than the benefit they provide.

Nearly two-thirds of American adults believe the costs necessary for the government to enforce marijuana laws are more than they are worth, according to a new poll by YouGov.com. The national survey, which polled nearly 1,000 American adults, found that 65 percent believe costs for enforcement are not worth it, while 55 percent of adults are in support of recreational marijuana being legalized.

Research does indicate that marijuana legalization could save the state and federal government a considerable amount in spending. A report published in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that nationwide prohibition costs $3.6 billion in enforcement per year.

According to the publication, which found that a marijuana arrest occurs every 37 seconds in the United States, “In 2010, states spent an estimated $1,747,157,206 policing marijuana possession arrests, $1,371,200,815 adjudicating marijuana possession cases, and $495,611,826 incarcerating individuals for marijuana possession.”

The report found that in 2010 over $1 billion alone was spent enforcing marijuana laws in New York and California. The total spent reaches over $2 billion when enforcement costs from Texas, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, Georgia, and Ohio are added.

If one were to also consider the amount of money that would be generated from taxes on marijuana, an end to marijuana prohibition could mean a $20 billion annual boost to state and federal governments, according to Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron. Miron, who had previously studied the impacts of marijuana legalization, estimated in 2013 that nationally $8.7 billion would be saved on law enforcement and another $8.7 billion would be generated from taxes if marijuana were to be legalized.

Adult use marijuana is already legal in four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska – as well as the District of Columbia. The Colorado Center on Law and Policy estimated that ending marijuana prohibition saved the state anywhere from $12 million to $40 million dollars during the first year of legalization.

Before legalization, in the year 2010, Colorado saw 9,011 people arrested for marijuana possession. After the state legalized marijuana in 2014, the number of people arrested for possession was projected to be 1,464. The number of marijuana possession arrests dropped 84 percent and arrests for marijuana cultivation and distribution dropped by more than 90 percent between 2010 and 2014.

Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada have cannabis initiatives on the ballot, which means they could have legal recreational marijuana by the end of the year.

Voters in Nevada will decide on Question 2, an adult use marijuana initiative that is estimated to create a $630 million statewide market by 2020.

“[Question 2] will regulate marijuana like alcohol- in a manner similar to alcohol,” said Joe Brezny, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “It seems like most of Nevada has figured out that marijuana prohibition has failed and they want to hear what our plans are for this new approach.”

The YouGov poll also found that 52 percent of American adults disagree with the notion that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to harder drug use. The groups most likely to endorse marijuana legalization were found to be adults living in the western region of the U.S. (64 percent), Democrats (63 percent), and those under 30 years of age (63 percent).