Marijuana debate clouds reality

The arguments claiming that decriminalizing marijuana will end the influence of Mexican drug cartels and bring in billions of dollars in tax revenue are incessantly echoed in America — and both were strategically used this year to successfully convince voters to legalize the drug in Washington and Colorado.

Max Rubin | Daily Trojan

Students, especially, have been quick to embrace these arguments and are at the forefront of the movement to end the prohibition of marijuana. Young adults ages 18 to 29 are twice as likely to favor legalization than adults over 60, according to a 2011 Gallup poll.

But the reasoning for both of these talking points is faulty and unsound, and ends up distracting American voters from the negative consequences of recreational marijuana use.

First and foremost, the notion that legalizing marijuana will stop drug violence in Mexico and along the U.S. border is fatuous. The Office of National Drug Control and Policy estimates that drug cartels derive 61 percent of their revenue from marijuana. The idea that drug cartels will be complacent with a dented bottom line is inconceivable.

Though this number is certainly significant for cartels’ bottom lines, it also leaves a gigantic portion of revenue from dealing other illicit drugs unaddressed. Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys determined that if marijuana was legalized across the United States, cartels would adapt and make as much profit on heroin and methamphetamine individually as they would on marijuana. The same projection shows cocaine making up more than one-third of cartels’ revenues. Thus, cartels could respond to legalized marijuana by focusing on moving harder drugs, such as heroin, meth and cocaine. Police forces both inside and outside the United States will have to continue to crack down on drug cartels, efforts which will continue to cost taxpayers.

It is also commonly argued that as America’s most valuable cash crop, marijuana will bring in a large amount of tax revenue for the U.S. government. In 2006, ABC News reported that with “a value of $35.8 billion, marijuana exceeds the combined value of corn and wheat.” But this figure was calculated — in a report published by Jon Gettman, director of the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis — based on an estimated street value of $1,600 per pound. Once legalized, the price of marijuana could decrease by 80 percent, according to the nonpartisan RAND Drug Policy Research Center. Thus, many boasted revenue projections could be grossly exaggerated.

Nevertheless, both of these arguments — that legalizing marijuana will end the war on drugs and bring in billions of dollars in tax revenue — are constantly used to distract from the negative consequences of marijuana use. For students, these consequences are especially pertinent. Research shows that teenagers who smoke pot on a regular basis consistently do worse in school and are twice as likely to drop out of high school. A CBS article published in August said that smoking marijuana as a teenager corresponds to an average IQ drop of eight points — which lowered the substance-using student’s IQ rate in comparison to the average student’s by double-digit percentage points.

Even for older users, there are significant side effects to recreational marijuana use. A landmark study published in February by Dalhousie University in Canada found that using marijuana within three hours of driving doubles the likelihood of causing a car crash. Additionally, marijuana contains 50-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke, potentially increasing users’ chances of developing cancer. And in September, USC scientists published a study linking recreational marijuana use among males to a dangerous form of testicular cancer.

Whether any of these side effects justify criminalizing marijuana is certainly open to question, but it is imperative that students are wise enough to question common talking points and focus on the true consequences of legalization. There is no doubt that current college students’ reasoning will play an instrumental role in the future of America’s drug policies. The way our generation handles this first hurdle will have long-reaching implications for decades to come.


Ryan Townsend is a sophomore majoring in business administration. His column “The Blame Game” runs Tuesdays.

19 replies
  1. Mario
    Mario says:

    I find it interesting that the name of this article is “Marijuana debate clouds reality” You’d think that someone going to a private school would know better. FOLLOW THE MONEY! The real reason for it’s villainous status was caused by the Pacific northwest logging industries quest to monopolize the paper mills in America. Yah that’s right. It’s about money once more. The industry lobbied to get marijuana or “hemp” outlawed. Not for it’s pshyco-active properties, but for it’s ability to make paper so readily. You could grow plants every season and have a new crop every season. Interestingly enough, The medical industry was convinced to vote in the direction of the loggers then realized their mistake to late. They (medical industry) were using it for its medical qualities. Imagine telling the American people that I have maybe the second best way to make paper so vote for me. Yah, you see, that bird won’t fly. The only way to convince the American people to outlaw this plant was to call it the devil’s weed. One toke and you became this minion of evil. Reality? I guess it’s subjective. The prohibition on marijuana has been a disaster at best. Millions of people use it and the war on it has cost BILLIONS since it’s outlawing. So why should a financially strapped state fit the bill for a lie.

  2. John Markes
    John Markes says:

    It’s a shame Ryan Townsend wants us to support the gangs and cartels that sell marijuana to children and perpetrate violence. Why do you support the black market instead of regulated outlets? Since the main result of this is that gangs and cartels keep their lucrative market selling to children with no competition from legal suppliers who don’t, one wonders why Ryan Townsend wants children to have greater access to marijuana? Or does he just prefer gangs and cartels to legal regulated supplies?

  3. Clifford Schaffer
    Clifford Schaffer says:

    As for the health effects on seniors, let’s cut to the chase.

    The largest study of the health effects of marijuana ever done was by Kaiser Permanente. They surveyed the health records of 65,000 patients over a period of years. They found no significant differences in the health records of pot smokers versus non-pot-smokers.

    Their conclusions fundamentally agree with every major government commission report on the subject — marijuana may have various dangers, but none of them amounts to a serious danger to most individuals, or to the public health. Furthermore, those dangers are nothing by comparison to other common legal items, such as alcohol, tobacco, and cheeseburgers.

    In short, the health issues of cannabis just don’t amount to a rational argument for prohibiting it. Think it over while cheeseburger juice drips down your chin.

    That is not to mention that this idea confuses “drugs are bad” with “prohibition is good.” The two are not the same. See alcohol for the best example.

  4. Clifford Schaffer
    Clifford Schaffer says:

    “Research shows that teenagers who smoke pot on a regular basis consistently do worse in school and are twice as likely to drop out of high school. A CBS article published in August said that smoking marijuana as a teenager corresponds to an average IQ drop of eight points — which lowered the substance-using student’s IQ rate in comparison to the average student’s by double-digit percentage points.”

    First, this never had anything to do with the marijuana laws. These kinds of ideas were made up only when people stopped believing that mj will turn you into a bat.

    As for the study:

    1) The relevant group consisted of ten people — as opposed to much larger studies which have shown no such thing.
    2) The difference in IQ is about half the standard deviation of most IQ tests. In other words, it is less than the normal variation you would expect if the same person took the test multiple times.
    3) There is no real indication of causality or control for other variables.
    4) We have had tens of millions of teenagers smoking pot for decades now. If there was a real problem, we wouldn’t be guessing based on the results from ten people at this late date.

    And so forth.

    That is not to mention that the idea wouldn’t make a good justification for prohibiting it for adults, even if it was true. That is not to mention that there is no evidence that prohibition would help any of the supposed problems with kids, either. Historically speaking, the biggest single cause of drug epidemics among US children is anti-drug campaigns. You can read about a number of examples at

  5. Clifford Schaffer
    Clifford Schaffer says:

    “Once legalized, the price of marijuana could decrease by 80 percent, according to the nonpartisan RAND Drug Policy Research Center. Thus, many boasted revenue projections could be grossly exaggerated.”

    What is the difference between a 25-cent cigar and a 25-dollar cigar? What is the difference between a 2 dollar bottle of wine and a 200-dollar bottle of wine?

    If you care to spend some time in marijuana dispensaries you will see something interesting. A finely grown, shaped, and trimmed bud may sell for fifty dollars per eighth. If you take the same bud and simply crumble it between your fingers, the maximum sale price is cut in half. It is the exact same product — except for how it looks — and the price is instantly halved. Ponder that in your marketing classes.

    Marijuana growers will tell you that it takes quite a bit of labor and expense to produce mj that the buyers really want. The buyers will tell you that they aren’t as price-sensitive as one might think. They are willing to pay good prices for good flavor.

  6. Clifford Schaffer
    Clifford Schaffer says:

    “The idea that drug cartels will be complacent with a dented bottom line is inconceivable.”

    I have always found this line of reasoning to be highly amusing. In other words, we have to keep marijuana illegal so the profit margins will be high so the drug gangs (look up “cartel” for the proper use) will make a lot of money and won’t be tempted to do something worse.

    In other words, marijuana prohibition is really a full-employment campaign for criminals. We have to make sure that they make a lot of money, so they won’t bother us with something else.

    You are a business major, so let me give it to you in the simplest business terms. Mj legalization will likely cut more than half of their total revenue. That’s a good thing, any way you slice it.

    But let’s frame it as a simple business question. The estimates vary, but all the estimates agree that the marijuana business is worth tens of billions per year. There are only three choices for who will run the business, make all the rules for production and sales, and collect all the billions that come from it. The choices are:

    1) Government, with proper regulations and taxes to address social problems.
    2) Private business, with proper regulations and taxes to address social problems.
    3) Organized crime, with no regulations or taxes to address social problems.

    Please explain why you think organized crime is the best choice and will give us the best control over all the related social problems.

  7. Clifford Schaffer
    Clifford Schaffer says:

    “the negative consequences of recreational marijuana use.”

    You have made a common logical error. You have confused the idea of “drugs are bad” with the idea “prohibition is good.” The first does not prove the second.

    The best example is alcohol. Alcohol is clearly bad for society. That doesn’t mean that alcohol prohibition was a good idea. In fact, alcohol prohibition only made all the problems worse. See for some good info on that.

    As some of the major studies have noted the reasoning you used is exactly backwards. The more dangerous you assume a drug to be, the more important it becomes to treat it in a non-punitive manner. The reason is that making it a crime just drives the problem underground, where it is harder to deal with the problems. Alcohol prohibition was one good example of that.

  8. Clifford Schaffer
    Clifford Schaffer says:

    Here are your reading assignments so you can get a better understanding of the issues.

    Start with Licit and Illicit Drugs at This is the best overall review of the drug problem ever written. It has been used as basic college textbook for decades. It will explain how we got into this mess.

    Then read the Drug Hang-Up at This is another excellent history, written by a former president of the American Bar Association. He once formed a committee with the American Medical Association to study US drug policy. He found out that was a big mistake. The US Government does not like objective analysis of its drug policy. He tells the story in this book.

    Then you should read “Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding” the report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse at This is the largest study of the marijuana laws ever done, commissioned and staffed by President Nixon, who started the modern drug war.

    Then look around the site and you can find such things as numerous other histories, such as the history of the start of the DEA, the full transcripts of the congressional hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act, and the full text of every major government commission report on the drug laws from around the world over the last 100 years.

    The references above will give you a good summary of what you would learn if you read all the rest.

    If you will care to look around at other places on the internet where this subject is debated, you will discover that no prohibitionist has survived in this debate in more than twenty years. The major prohibitionist groups admitted several years ago that they have completely lost this debate on the internet, so they don’t even try anymore. Lately, some of the major prohibitionist groups have even offered their own plans for legalization – simply because they now see legalization as inevitable.

  9. Rick Steeb
    Rick Steeb says:

    The prohibition of Earth’s most widely beneficial plant species is a crime against humanity. It shall NOT stand.

  10. Give Me Liberty
    Give Me Liberty says:

    While it’s true that cannabis smoke contains carcinogens, current research is showing that it is actually less likely to produce cancer than tobacco smoke:

    The author of the study goes on to say, “It should be noted that with the development of vaporizers, that use the respiratory route for the delivery of carcinogen-free cannabis vapors, the carcinogenic potential of smoked cannabis has been largely eliminated.”

    Carcinogens in cannabis are produced when the material is pyrolyzed (burned), and can be avoided by using other routes of administration. As the price of cannabis goes down you’ll find more people eating it rather than smoking it, thus avoiding exposure to carcinogens present only in smoked cannabis.

    Can the same be said of tobacco? (First Identification of a Strong Oral Carcinogen in Smokeless Tobacco)

    Also, Ryan Townsend’s contention that, “the notion that legalizing marijuana will stop drug violence in Mexico and along the U.S. border is fatuous, ” is reasonable. Cartels would not be stopped if cannabis were to be legalized tomorrow. However, most proponents of cannabis legalization aren’t claiming the cartels will be stopped, only that a significant proportion of their revenues will be cut. But this is a necessary step to take, especially considering the fact that prohibition simply isn’t reducing drug use anywhere.

  11. libertyMinded
    libertyMinded says:

    The main reason for changing current policy is that it is none of the federal gov’s business what who grows and/or smokes. We are sovereign people not subjects or property.

  12. Hemperor
    Hemperor says:

    If you are seeking an opportunity to get into this industry be warned, you cannot unless you already have two years residency in Colorado. BUT, there is an exciting way for you to make some money by lending to the industry. As they said in the report there are no banks who will lend to dispensaries, no matter how much profit they generate. That’s where you come in… if you can lend $25,000 to $250,000 for a short time and you want to earn an interest rate from 10% to 30% then please contact me today at: mmjviceroy at g

    Then you can tell all your friends you are “in” the medical marijuana industry and more importantly you can help sick patients get access to the same high potency cannabis they purchase now for less money than they pay today.

  13. Jillian
    Jillian says:

    And since you mentioned the “negative consequences of marijuana use”, why don’t we take a look at how the prohibition protects us from them. Well, as the prohibition *doesn’t* prevent millions of Americans from using marijuana it’s pretty apparent that it doesn’t protect us from them at all!

    In fact, because our stores aren’t allowed to legally sell marijuana to adults they therefore aren’t able to undercut the drug dealers’ prices so we have drug dealers on our streets selling marijuana to CHILDREN. So your beloved prohibition actually puts our children at MORE risk of the “negative consequences of marijuana use”. Thanks Ryan.

    If there’s one thing that seventy years of prohibition has taught us it’s that we CAN’T stop people smoking marijuana. So, given the facts of the last seven decades, what do you think is more harmful – legally-grown marijuana sold to adults in licensed establishments or illegal weed sold to kids on the street? Remember, drug dealers don’t card, supermarkets do.

  14. Jillian
    Jillian says:

    Ryan, your logic is extremely flawed. What business do you know of could survive with 60% of its income gone? It costs the cartels a *lot* to pay bribes, buy weapons and pay their hitmen. Without the marijuana money they simply aren’t going to have enough cash flow to stay in business.

    And no, they won’t be able to just sell more meth, coke and heroin to make up the lost income. They may *want* to sell more but if they increase supply without demand also increasing then they’re just going to drive down prices and erode their profit margins. And think about what the impact of legal weed is going to have on the demand for other drugs – since all drugs (including alcohol) are “substitute goods” for each other, legalizing marijuana is going to REDUCE the demand for the very drugs that the cartels are going to need to sell more of. So no, the cartels are NOT going to be able to replace 60% of their incomes through increased sales of harder drugs.

    Think about this – how many bootleggers have you heard of lately? Legalizing adult alcohol sales drove alcohol prices down to the point where illegal suppliers couldn’t compete anymore – that’s the sole reason we legalized alcohol. And the exact same thing is going to happen to the drug dealers and cartels when we legalize adult marijuana sales.

  15. Gustavo
    Gustavo says:

    If you don’t support Legalization you support the status quo of prohibition and that is something that I can not understand. Prohibition has been a TOTAL failure; costing us tax payers trillions of dollars over decades of failure and nothing to show for it but more use and abuse across the board. If you don’t support legalizing Marijuana then what do you suggest? It’s easy to say, na that’s not going to work because you are all pot heads so then what’s the solution then? Because prohibition has obviously failed, what the alternative to prohibition?? Funny how none of these articles saying legalization won’t work show any other alternatives.

  16. Jose
    Jose says:

    Some people will continue to try to keep in place the stupidest law in history. Maybe this story can fly on Fox News but it isn’t going to work on the internet.

  17. Chris
    Chris says:

    Its a great thing that liars such has this author are becoming less and less influential…..

    What this author fails to mention are the lives and famlies destroyed over a plant that has never killed anyone…..

    He also fails to mention that 80% of marijuana users are white and 75% of drug prisoners for marijuana are black…..

    Hey moron students werent tricked into voting for it…….your way is FAR FAR FAR more of a destructive policy than legalization would ever be……

    Love these idiots who’ve never smoked it are experts

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