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Jun 04
2014

The Unseen Consequences of Legalizing Marijuana

Posted by: Steve Marr

Tagged in: Untagged 

When the federal or state government passes legislation, the new laws produce seen and unseen results. Often what is unseen impacts us more than what we can see. The legalization of selling marijuana is one example.

I spent time in Colorado this year. The number of people smoking marijuana on the street has increased. The use of the drug is up.  Police report an increase of driving under the influence of marijuana in the state. Many believe marijuana will be a gateway drug to more damaging drugs.  These are all predictable events we can see.


A major unseen problem is the likely increase of heroin.  Economic principles lead us to this conclusion.  The cost of marijuana has declined in many places, around 75% of the street dealers’ price. Many drive to Colorado to buy marijuana in large quantities so they can return home to sell it cheap. While there is a purchase limit in Colorado at each store, buyers circumvent this restriction by going to multiple stores and paying cash.  Economic principles remind us that when the price of something falls, demand increases.  That is the case with marijuana. Future increased use of marijuana will happen based on falling prices. Many have already predicted this.

Another unseen result is the likely increase in heroin use in the United States. The Mexican drug cartels control much of the marijuana sold.  As the street price of marijuana drops, more cartels are dropping the marijuana business. This was a stated goal of those wanting to legalize marijuana. However, the cartels have shifted from producing marijuana to heroin. As they focus more resources on heroin, the street price will likely drop. This gives the drug cartels more incentive to shift their criminal enterprise to heroin away from marijuana.  Marijuana may have made them money last year, but not now.

Economist Milton Friedman argued that the laws create criminal syndicates to deliver the goods.  When something like drugs is illegal, the price increases. Higher prices attract criminals. But what Friedman never said, and what I have never seen other economists say, is at the legalization of something will increase demand. This is a fundamental law of economic; but economists refuse to say this openly, especially as it applies to marijuana. Using marijuana is going to increase; in fact, it is increasing as price declines. The unseen implication of this is that the use of heroin is going to increase because the street cost will decrease. The price of hard drugs will fall, because the price of marijuana is falling. The process is indirect, but it is inevitable.

The only way that it is possible to reduce the consumption of marijuana, heroin or anything else, is to persuade people about the impending harm from continued use of the product. The debate will need to focus on evidence of negative medical implications or on moral objections.

Consider how the use of tobacco products has declined because of the high cost (think taxes) and an increased understanding of the harm of smoking.  I’m not sure the moral arguments have had a large impact.

We are caught in the middle of a great evil that will not be resolved until people come to Christ, are transformed, and become new creations in Christ. There is no other way. As the price of marijuana falls, its use will increase. As the cartels shift their efforts to heroin, use will increase. More people in America will suffer from the effects of these addictive drugs, and we will also suffer indirect results. Alternatively, if we go back to a strong police effort to cut out drugs; then, we may be headed toward the Mexican model. In Mexico, drug dealers kill for control of power and profits in the drug trade which increases violence in ways that affect non-users as well. I don’t see the United States escaping these negative effects unless we successfully bring the hope of Christ to others. 


The Salvation Army found a tremendous ministry opportunity in ministering to alcoholics and drug addicts. As more people use these drugs, the church has an opportunity to step in. Deliverance and hope can only come from the Lord, not from us or more laws. Today, many ministries focus on addicts on the street.  This focus needs to increase significantly.  The best way to put the drug dealers out of business is to eliminate demand. 


I believe that the floodgate is open.  More states will move to legalize marijuana, and possibly other drugs. We have already lost the political battle. The church needs to focus on evangelism and expanding the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise, the great evil of drug addiction will grow.  We must embrace this as a ministry opportunity.  

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