Prohibition and Gangs Make Marijuana a Deadly Business

My hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, has the highest crime rate of any city in Florida and is plagued with gun violence. Why? The headline of this article says, “Pot dealers blamed for local gun violence.” Larry Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District in Florida, is quoted in the article as saying “the vast majority of gun violence relates to what we see–small-time, street corner marijuana dealers resolving their conflicts or disputes and robbing one another and using firearms to do it.”

The reason they settle their disputes with firearms is that not only will the police not protect them and their property, if the police discover that their property includes marijuana, the police will actively come after them. With no police protection, drug dealers protect themselves as best they can, and that includes arming themselves.

Robbery is another threat because if their marijuana is stolen, or even the money they’ve made from sales, dealers cannot call the police to help them. With no police protection, they resort to firearms to protect themselves.

Marijuana is deadly not because it is a drug, but because it is illegal. The problems cited in this article would vanish if marijuana were legalized, as it has been in many states. One caveat: if it is taxed too heavily, illegal markets will remain to evade those taxes.

The argument that marijuana is bad for people, or is dangerous, or is a gateway drug and so should be illegal does not hold up, because it is illegal now, and is still widely used. Even if negative consequences result from marijuana use, making it illegal does not eliminate those consequences; rather, it creates more negative consequences, such as the gun violence cited in the linked article.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of legalization is that in a free country, people must be free to make choices that other people believe are bad choices. Freedom is an illusion if the government prevents people from doing things that do not meet with the approval of those in power.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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