The Business Argument for Legalization

April 20, 2017

Politicians are loathed to take on controversial issues even when the resulting upside could be game changing. But no one has the power to move policy makers off of a long standing bad idea like business.  Business has an outsized power over policy making (for good and bad).  Profit is a power motivator, add to that any policy that promotes job growth and what you have is a power engine for change.

In Ohio, a major roadblock in the path to legalize marijuana is the business community and the perceptive harm to business interests. But is the business community accounting for the upside of potentially legalizing marijuana and overstating the downside?

We have a real world allegory for the war on marijuana; prohibition.  If alcohol was illegal, hypothetically the cost and risk of alcohol in the workplace would be greatly reduced.  But we know how prohibition worked out, it was not enforceable and the cost to business was not mitigated.  The benefit to society and business simply did not outweigh the unintended consequences of enforcement.

It’s time for business to ask if the same is true for marijuana.

When you compare the impact of alcohol and marijuana use on society and individuals, the evidence clearly shows that alcohol use is far more damaging.

Marijuana as a gateway drug is overstated and may have more to do with the fact that recreational users buy their marijuana from the same dealers that provide other illegal drugs, like heroin.

The availability of heroin could be greatly reduced by the legalization of marijuana.  For the drug cartels, the illegal trade in marijuana is the bulk of their business and profits.  Legalization of marijuana would have a major negative impact on the viability of the illegal drug trade and disincentivize operations in Ohio.  Also, law enforcement could refocus their efforts on heroin and other highly dangerous and destructive drugs.

Is the war on marijuana a form of institutionalized racism and ageism?  For many younger people, marijuana is the drug of choice.  While the use of marijuana across racial lines is equal, minorities are far more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges.  The drug trade also creates an economic incentive for participation of the economically disadvantaged, further increasing minority arrests and incarceration.

This why decriminalization of marijuana is wrong headed half measure, it would leave the illegal drug trade wholly intact and only further the negative racial impact of the war on marijuana.

So let’s look at the direct benefits of legalization to business.  First the war on marijuana is very expensive; the cost of Ohio’s criminal justice system is spiraling upwards. If we could eliminate the money spent on marijuana enforcement, those resources could be better employed in an effort that would have positive impacts on business like, infrastructure spending, job training, education, the list goes on.

A legal marijuana market would mean increased tax revenue.  The money spent on marijuana grown in Ohio would be funneled back into the local economy, not to international drug cartels.

While you may not understand and even find it reprehensible that potential employees would prefer to use marijuana over joining your workforce, you might want to ask yourself; who is the prohibition on marijuana hurting the most?  I am not going to promise you that there is no downside to ending drug screens for recreational marijuana use on personal time.  I am not suggesting that drug use in the workplace should be tolerated.  I am asking; does a reconciliation with marijuana similar to our reconciliation with alcohol just make more economic sense?  There is a trade-off here that is worth thoughtful consideration.

The other factor to consider is your customers.  Denying economic opportunity to young people over a personal choice is undercuts your own customer base.  Diverting young people into the criminal justice system will have a lifelong negative economic impact.  The end result is a consumer base with less discretionary income to spend on the goods and services that business provides.

I am not asking business to endorse the use of marijuana anymore that I would ask business to endorse the use of alcohol.  I am asking business leaders to reexamine their bias and preconceived notion of what marijuana legalization would look like and rethink the effect on our communities and the business environment in Ohio.  The business community’s opinion on this issue could be the deciding factor on legalization in Ohio.

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