Why Congress should legalize pot

Published 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014

Story highlights

Alaska, Oregon and District of Columbia recently legalized marijuana

Jeffrey Miron: State legalization is not enough; what U.S. needs is federal legalization

He says federal prohibition is a problem; doctors and researchers are afraid to use it

Miron: Given marijuana's potential in medicine, Congress should make it legal

Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Miron is senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in the economics department at Harvard University. He is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of “Libertarianism, from A to Z.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

Following the liberal footsteps of Colorado and Washington, Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia passed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana this month. Florida’s medical marijuana law failed, but only because as a constitutional amendment it needed 60% support; 58% voted in favor of it.

In 2016, another five to 10 states will likely consider legalization – possibly Arizona, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. It’s not surprising. Opinion polls show that marijuana legalization now commands majority support across the country.

Do these developments mean that full legalization is inevitable?

Jeffrey Miron
Courtesy Jeffrey Miron
Jeffrey Miron

Not necessarily, but one would hope so. Marijuana legalization is a policy no-brainer. Any society that professes to value liberty should leave adults free to consume marijuana.

Moreover, the evidence from states and countries that have decriminalized or medicalized marijuana suggests that policy plays a modest role in limiting use. And while marijuana can harm the user or others when consumed inappropriately, the same applies to many legal goods such as alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating or driving a car.

Recent evidence from Colorado confirms that marijuana’s legal status has minimal impact on marijuana use or the harms allegedly caused by use. Since commercialization of medical marijuana in 2009, and since legalization in 2012, marijuana use, crime, traffic accidents, education and health outcomes have all followed their pre-existing trends rather than increasing or decreasing after policy liberalized.

The strong claims made by legalization critics are not borne out in the data. Likewise, some strong claims by legalization advocates – e.g., that marijuana tourism would be a major boom to the economy – have also not materialized.