The Insane Economics Of Not Legalizing Marijuana In One Handy Infographic

There’s a lot of green in green. This infographic shows just how much money is falling through the cracks, and how much we’re spending to keep it underground.

With Ron Paul’s campaign fizzling, the idea that we might end the war on drugs is probably off the political table for the time being. The federal government (and many state governments) will continue to hunt down and prosecute marijuana growers and marijuana smokers. But, as you can see in this infographic about the faulty logic behind our ban on the drug, the government’s policies are resulting in a huge loss of income, without a commensurate increase in public health or safety.


What will happen to the children, concerned people ask, when confronted with the idea of a world filled with weed-smoking maniacs. Won’t our teenagers join an army of reefer-mad burnouts? We must protect them! But in states where marijuana is legal, the armies of reefer-mad burnouts have yet to materialize: 80% of the states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes have seen decreases in teen usage rates. Across the board, we have spent $33 billion on public service announcements to get kids not to smoke pot since 1969 and the rate of 12th graders who use marijuana is exactly the same as it was before we spent those billions:

In fact, the drug war doesn’t have much teeth at all, at least when it comes to marijuana. For one thing, it’s really easy to get. So easy, teenagers say it’s more accessible than alcohol, and kids have been getting alcohol quite easily for years:

Even assuming that legalization might cause an increase in teen drug use, think about what might be more important than children’s health: money. Lord knows that we, as a society, endanger our kids’ health in exchange for large sums of money all the time. And marijuana has the potential to be a huge source of cash; it already is for the underground economy in which it operates. In fact, it’s the most lucrative agricultural product in the entire country. In 12 states, it’s the largest cash crop the state produces. In more than half the states, it’s one of the top five products. That’s a lot of potential tax revenue going to waste.

And it’s not just that we’re losing potential cash. We’re also spending a lot of money to hunt down the farmers and consumers, which means the increase in revenue would be incredibly large: almost $21 billion on top of the money from actually selling the drug.

The infographic doesn’t dwell on the public health concerns of legalization. And they surely exist. The world would probably be a better place if no one was ever intoxicated. But we don’t really have that collective will power. We might as well make money off our vices. Check out the full infographic here or see it below:

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly