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A Harvard economist makes the case for legalizing drugs

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  April 18, 2013 09:00 AM

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It's not that unusual to hear free-market-minded economists argue for the legalization of drugs, but few do it with quite the gusto of Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron. In a March interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Miron made several familiar legalization arguments-- that legalization would lead people to safer drug use (more smoking, less injecting), fill government coffers through increased taxation and reduced law enforcement costs, and put an end to the crime and violence that flourishes in a black market environment.

But Miron went further than that. He argued that we violate the basic American principle of self-determination by prohibiting people from doing something they enjoy doing. The Der Spiegel reporter replied that maybe it's good to protect people from themselves sometimes, and, also, one man's drug use is the rest of society's problem. Miron replied that the "prohibition lobby exaggerates substantially to help it achieve its goals." He referenced research which indicates that drugs are less addictive, less dangerous to users' health, and less likely to cause antisocial behaviors like aggression than conventional wisdom has it.

And the picture he paints of a legalized world is downright sunny. Miron estimates that if drugs were legalized the U.S. government would save $85-$90 billion per year, the national murder rate would fall by 25 percent, and we wouldn't see any real increase in drug use (on that last point he cites the case of Portugal, where drugs were legalized several years ago and he says rates have barely budged). Miron does allow, however, that legalization would change his own behavior. "If drugs were legal tomorrow," he said, "I'd go out and give them all a try. I doubt I would use them more than once; but after all the research I have done on this issue, I am curious!"

Read the rest of the interview here.

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