Legalize Pot, Save Public Education, and end Student Indebtedness

College students and graduates in the United States have a debt crisis on their hands, owing a trillion dollars.

Some 80% of university students attend public colleges and universities, which were set up to provide inexpensive education.

These public institutions are increasingly expensive, however, in large part because [pdf] state legislatures have systematically cut their contributions to their state universities since 1990, by 26%.

At the same time, states have vastly increased their prison populations and prison costs, primarily because of the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ which everyone throughout the Americas recognizes as a complete failure except Barack Obama, Eric Holder and most other US politicians of both parties. Many of us suspect that the liquor corporations or private prison owners are bribing them through campaign contributions to keep marijuana illegal.

So here is a fix for the student debt crisis and the crisis in public education funding.

1. Legalize marijuana (Belgium, the Netherlands and Peru have not suffered from doing so, and it has been decriminalized in places like Portugal and Argentina with no ill effects; Portugal’s drug addiction rate has actually fallen).

2. Tax marijuana farms and dedicate the tax receipts solely to public higher education and student debt forgiveness

3. Pardon the hundreds of thousands of prisoners in state penitentiaries whose sole crime was using or selling marijuana. Save $40,000 per year per prisoner. Dedicate savings solely to public higher education and student debt relief.

4. Allow multiple sclerosis sufferers to use medical marijuana as a treatment, and let those with cancer, glaucoma and other conditions proven treatable via marijuana by science to use it for that purpose (as even conservative Arizona is now doing).

5. Tax medical marijuana clinics and dedicate their receipts solely to public higher education and student debt relief. (In California alone, pot is a $12 billion a year industry, and a ten percent tax would yield $1.2 billion a year to state coffers, helping save the University of California system).

6. Employ fewer narcotics police, achieve savings, apply those to, you guessed it.

7. Finance the education of new poor but outstanding students with the tax receipts on the marijuana industry, helping restore some of America’s former upward mobility.

These steps would not only solve the student debt crisis and allow universities to lower tuition, but would strengthen higher education in the US and allow us to remain competitive with Europe and rising nations in Asia (we are not keeping up). Our current declining investment in higher education will otherwise cause us to start falling behind in scientific and technological innovation and in cultural contributions, so vital for a dynamic democracy.

46 Responses

  1. Marijuana isn’t legal in the Netherlands, the sale of small amounts is decriminalized but there is no legal way to start growing commercially.

  2. not that I am in favour of a ‘war on drugs’, but in legalizing cannabis one should do this in full knowledge that cannabis is a risk factor in the development of schizophrenia (this having been shown in many studies).

    • this is not settled science & not a basis for making policy. Newer studies dispute.

    • “X is a risk factor for Y” is a statement if correlation, not causation. These studies don’t show that marijuana causes schizophrenia, only that marijuana use is associated with schizophrenia is some unspecified way.

      That said, the effects that marijuana has on users’ minds definately should be considered in policy discussions.

      • Aaron, very good points (being born in winter or spring is also a risk factor in schizophrenia, for example). Which studies Juan Cole refers to are unknown to me, the most recent one I’ve read was published in 2010 and everything I’ve read supports this correlation. Chris

    • In spite of huge increases in marijuana smokers over the past decades, the number of schizophrenic patients has not increased. Cannabis use had increased substantially since the 1960’s. If the link between schizophrenia and cannabis were truly causal then the incidence of schizophrenia should have also increased dramatically as well. However population trends suggest that it has been either stable or slightly decreased over this time period.

  3. “pot is a $12 billion a year industry, and a ten percent tax would yield $1.2 billion a year”
    I doubt that legal pot would be as much of an industry (it is a weed we are talking about that hardly needs any processing or maintenance) it is the prison industry that is much bigger and the drug offenders are a big part of that, some might even argue why waste money on education, just jail more professors and grad students (say one strike law for people who should know better but absolutely no bankers or politician, that would be inhuman treatment of every one else)

    • See, with this kind of comprehensive strategic thinking, you have a real future at the Heritage Foundation or ALEC.

      • I think you should reread the post above. It is probably just that sarcasm doesn’t translate so well online.

  4. Legalization of cannabis is something that should be done. Nobody should be in prison for pot.

    However, it is NOT the innocuous drug that most believe. It has been definitively linked to psychotic disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia. These mental illnesses are severely disabling; The majority of 3M schizophrenia victims are wards of the state on SSI and Medicaid.

    If pot is legalized it needs to be regulated and safe. The current “medical marijuana” industry is anything but “medical” — it is a business that competes on the basis of maximum THC (i.e., the component which makes you high).

    The beneficial effects of cannabis are believed to come from Cannabinoids, not THC. This has been poorly researched and funded.

    Any taxes on marijuana should be spent on addiction treatment and medical research, not for student aid.

    Shut down the national security state and make universities free.

    • Pardon my ignorance, but 3M schizophrenia? Is that some especially vicious form of the disorder?

      You talk as if schizophrenia was caused by smoking pot. I’m here to say that is NOT TRUE!!! Nobody said there wasn’t a correlation. Juan said the study quoted was in dispute by newer ones–par for the course.

      • I think that referred to “3 million Americans who suffer from or have been diagnosed with schizophrenia,” or in the debased language of our times, are “victims” of the disorder, and in the logic of the writer, maybe causatively “victims” of MJ.

      • See NIMH for the incidence of schizophrenia. Read Whittaker, “Anatomy of and Epidemic”. Full-blown schizophrenia is incredibly disabling. 1 in 100 has it. Many homeless are afflicted.

        If you had a family member affected (after smoking high-test pot for the freshman year at college), maybe you would study the linkages.

        As I said above, people should not be jailed for marijuana use. Pot should be legal, SAFE, and heavily taxed. It is none of that today.

        We should not fool ourselves that the pot we smoked in the 1970s is anything like the product sold to kids today. Even if the odds are 1 in 10 of being intolerant to cannabis, is it worth the societal risks and costs?

  5. Free or low-cost college education for everyone that wants one, is the cheapest investment a country can make in its economic future.

    The American taxpayers paid for both my AA and BA engineering degrees (Vietnam vet) and it was a bargain for them. The computer you are using at this very moment has one of my patents in it and much of the technology that has been invented over the last 50 years has been done by men and women that got their education paid for by the public.

    Yes, Gates and Jobs did not finish college, but they hired hundreds of thousands of WW2 and Vietnam vets that got their education from the taxpayers. The same thing happened in other segments of the economy.

    One of the reason the SF Bay Area has such a vibrant economy is because there are over seven WORLD CLASS universities in the area, most of which are PUBLIC universities. There is a very good reason why the city of Modesto fought so hard to have the newest UC campus. They understand the economic BONUS that comes from having a university. Every major university in the US has hundreds if not thousands of businesses started up around them, leading to vibrant economies.

    A recent example is BYU Idaho. Since it has come on-line, many new business, off shoots of university activities, have sprouted up.

    Free/low cost education is a cheap investment in a future, which is why China is spending billions on building a world-class university system throughout China. Chinese leaders understand what American leaders do not – education expands the economy.

    BTW – the taxes I have paid over the years because of the rewards for my engineering degree have more than offset the money the taxpayers spent on my education.

    • Do you think that Beijing is improving its university system with an eye to bringing all their students in the US home becuause they recognize our own system is being starved, dismantled and privatized?

      • @super390 – You are probably partially correct about the problems of the US university systems, but China also has the incentive of wanting to educate more of its population than US universities could ever do.

        At first glance, people might think that China wants to be able to teach in Chinese, but that isn’t true. Most university students in China are expected to read, speak and write English and many of the classes are taught in English.

  6. I couldn’t agree with You more but this being America, where We never seem to never learn anything from Our errors, it won’t happen. Instead, just like We have done on one failed War after another, We double down on the failed Policies, shove more Money out to the Rulers Friends and Benefactors, marching off to full belly up mode. In many ways, Washington reminds Me of the Catholic Church where failure is considered a badge of Honor. For a so called Free Country, We have more Prisoners than China with five times Our Population and Our Prisons We hold in higher esteem than an educated Populace. The Shining City on the Hill is shining only because it is on Fire and the glow in the night is the last of the Buildings burning to the ground. The failed Government can’t change because it has no vision and Greed has become It’s only reason to exist. Common Sense has no place in Our World of Empire. A terrible waste of Our Talents.

    • “… the Catholic Church where failure is considered a badge of Honor.”

      not sure what this refers to, but I take exception to this statement. I am a Catholic Priest, though not ordained. I represent the Catholic Church. Heck, I AM the Catholic Church. I am not an official spokesman.

      The Catholic Church considers failure to be an integral part of the human condition. The Church assumes that all have sinned and fall short of perfection. Perhaps there are counterexamples.

      The central message that Jesus tried to transmit is that, despite our failures, we can be forgiven and do better in the future.
      There are entire christianist industries set up to obfuscate that message. My Church has sometimes clouded that message. But we exist as an organization to spread that message.

      Significantly, my Church has condoned, or at least concealed, great wickedness. If you, Mike, are a victim of that evil perpetrated against the vulnerable, I am heartily sorry. Not that it matters, but I am crying as I type this, aware of the breadth of the sins of the Church. But we strive to get better, and we try to help those we injured to heal.
      May God bless and heal all of us.

  7. Great ideas and they make common sense. There’s plenty of great ideas to improve our people’s lives through education, infrastructure and so on. What’s missing is a political strategy to have these humanistic changes implemented as laws.

    What is to be done?

    • exactly. there are too many powerful interests thriving on the status quo. they have deep pockets, plus americans are easily scared, so tough-on-crime rhetoric usually carries the day.

  8. Excellent thoughts. I am in complete agreement.
    But: this makes WAY too much sense for Amerika in 2012.
    Was it Winston Churchill who said: “Ya gotta love the Americans: You can count on them to do the right thing … after they have tried everything else.”

  9. Hear, hear, Professor. Agree a trillion%

    Legalize MJ and tax it like any other commodity like alcohol or cigarettes. I’d go so far as to say “end the war on drugs” which has been a multi-trillion dollar colossal failure and legalize all drugs. THAT would bring huge revenue into the U.S. Treasury.

    Forgive all student debts right now. Student indebtedness is so ridiculous that even the President of the United States only paid off his college loans 8 years ago. Hello!

    Instead of investing multi-trillions of dollars in perpetual war, weapons and ‘nation building’ nations that don’t want us and that bankrupts the USA, we need to invest in we the people, our crumbling infrastructure, new technology, clean green energy, research, NASA and space exploration, U.S. manufacturing and most crucially, education! And education for all.

  10. If “many studies” have shown that cannabis increases the risk of developing schizophrenia, perhaps a cite is in order??

      • New studies suggest genetic factors in schizophrenia. Typiically its onset is late teens through early 20s. If there were a causal correlation, which is disputed in the literature, you wouldn’t want teenagers using it.

        Alcohol probably isn’t good for the mentally fragile either.

        • The problem with cannabis is that it is a youth drug and the brain’s plasticity at 14 is a factor if you’re considering using psychoactive drugs. Yes, for males the ages of 17-27 are the most common for its outbreak. And yes, genetics is by far the major risk factor. Minor risks seem to be (in Europe) living in cities, member of migrant population, being born in winter/spring and apparently pregnancy/birth complications as well as child abuse (in addition, of course, to cannabis use). In all the serious literature that I have read concerning this, the argument is made that a correlation between cannabis and psychosis (and schizophrenia) exists. Each of us can decide what to do with this piece of knowledge. I am not trying to argue against legalization, it’s just that it’s not all love & peace.

    • The BMJ from 2010 cited is the most recent I know of. I would also add BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY (2004),184:Causal association between cannabis and psychosis:examination of the evidence (discussing 5 studies).

  11. I believe that legalizing marijuana would begin to reduce demand for criminally delivered drug products. The United States’ demand for illegal drugs motivates criminal activity around the world.

    I was disappointed that Obama, while visiting South America, didn’t acknowledge the connection between crime and the American drug consumer. The President of Mexico has blamed the United States’ lucrative drug market for creating havoc in his country.

    Cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs also come with health risks and yet they are still available in the United States. Legalize marijuana and begin to deal with drugs in this country, and neutralize the vile criminal elements that bring human suffering to the rest of the world.

  12. Booze is legal, tobacco is legal, Xanax and oxycodone are legal, and anyone care to debate that there’s a whole bunch more souls, bodies, “family values” and public and private money lost to those indulgences, and more costs, than all the pot problems that some would do the ol’ “Reefer Madness, Rebooted, With Subtle New Arguments” schtick on?

    Follow the money, people. Money, LARGE, HUGE money, is the hormone, the lubricant, the adhesive, the marker, that drives all this stuff. Love of money, and the way it lets those with no conscience or self-restraint tickle the nerve endings in their limbic systems, and satisfy their amygdalic urges, and accumulate power over others. Drug lords, prison lords, Koch sockers in the various legislatures and palaces and courthouses, et bloody cetera.

    And yeah, there’s no doing without money, but which flavor of money? The sawbuck in my wallet, or the cloudbloat of little bits and bytes that represents the Funny Munny, in the form of T-full-faith-and-credit-Bills or the “notional dollars” that bids fair, once again, to drive ordinary people back down into servitude and destitution? Maybe the terabucks that flow to the MIC, globally? The money that people EARN by physical labor of various sorts, and the parts of mind-work that are not part of the Great Destruction the Wall Streeters are dropping on us, those really smart SOBs who “make” money, who don’t “earn” it in any sense that makes any sense, at least to me, by inflating with laughing gas (they giggle, and the joke’s on us) in an enormous act of counterfeiting all those CDSs and CDOs the rest of us have to “make real on” when they go south? Those people whose ethical horizons stop at “So what? I’ll be gone and you’ll be gone, so f__k the Muppets and Dumb Money! Phillip, bring the Ferrari around to the side door where the Occupiers can’t see me…”

    Whatchagonnadoaboutit?

    • Oh, but JT, it’s much crazier than that. Consider that for 50 years the US was tyrannized by the Prohibition movement. If you saw Ken Burns’ documentary “Prohibition”, you saw a movement powered by WASP bigotry towards Catholic immigrants disguised as a punishment for behavior that was stereotyped as Catholic. But in those days the GOP was the Protestant party and the northern Democrats were the Catholic party, so it was also about that. In 1920 the GOP was pro-woman’s suffrage, and pro-Prohibition. Why? Because their strategists believed if women got the vote, the drunken, wife-beating Micks and Dagos would not let their wives vote, while GOP WASPS would march their wives to the polls to unleash a reign of anti-immigrant terror.

      All of which came true, sad to say.

      But vengeance came when the GOP ran American into the ’29 Crash, and women switched parties out of fear of their children starving. The Catholics and Dems were on top, Prohibition was banned, and alcohol suddenly became as American as apple cider.

      Three years later, marijuana was outlawed.

      You know, the Ni**er drug.

      And that’s the politics behind drug policy. Bigotry dictates even to capitalism. White Protestants and Catholics still think that pot makes their children “act black”. When that changes, everything else will change.

      • Super, it doesn’t hurt that all those PO-lice departments, small and large, self-fund with licit and illicit subsidies from drug arrests and seizures of vehicles, homes, boats, aircraft, jewelry, and of course huge amounts of cash that might happen to be lying around when The Man kicks the door in, warrant or not.

        Lots of Prohibitionists had a real liking for Jim Beam, as much as Jim Crow…

  13. A significant portion of any taxation should be applied to substance abuse rehab/prevention programs. As should tax on alcohol!

  14. @GREGG: Alcohol is not an innocuous drugs, nor is tobacco, but both are legal in the United States. Due to the nature of the black market, it is easier for school children to get marijuana, than for them to get alcohol and tobacco.

  15. America should have free higher education, including all areas of education and work-study for non degree education for plumbers, carpenters, artists, etc. The length not fixed to 4 years for a BS degree, but according to the individual’s learning ability which for some will be 5 or more years. Costs in America should be basically free, such that a per cent of the families and/or individuals annual gross income is charged so that there is no need for loans and no excessive burdens. All students, not just those from wealth families would then be able to become doctors, scientists, etc.

    Higher education in America is too expensive for almost 50% of American families, unless they make major sacrifices such as shortchanging their retirements.

    link to bankrate.com

    I believe that a major cause for the lack of government funds for education is due to the annual cost of the corrupt Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned Americans about on January 17, 1961 that is very much alive and responsible for starting and maintaining illegal wars and spending trillions of dollars.

    The Military Industrial Complex must be replaced with a defense military and a limited offensive military. The UN military should be reorganized and strengthened to take on the responsibility of maintaining peace and world governments representing the people, not the rich and militarys in all countries.

  16. A great post. Probably it will never happen-as it makes far too much sense. In fact though there are some problems which are very difficult to solve (global warming; religious wars;
    starvation, disease…) there are so many cases where an obvious remedy would help so much, but because of corruption
    (the insidious influence of money) will likely never get implemented.

    Pot is not so great for you- otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people (like myself) who once smoked but now want nothing to do with it. But put somebody in jail? It is just so ridiculous ….

  17. multiple sclerosis? Has anyone asked if Ann Romney smokes pot? Just asking, not trying to be rude.

    Gee,the former head of Vanderbilt University wife was found smoking pot and ended his career at Vanderbuilt. Gee is also LDS.

  18. The studies I’ve been able to find are unclear whether the link between marijuana use and schizophrenia is causal or merely correlative. In either case, it would seem that the cost to society would be lower if marijuana were legalized.

  19. I agree 100%. I’d add the necessity to repatriate the drug underworld felons,kings, and pawns. When prohibition ended we had all these mobsters siting around with there machine guns and organizations with no way to make money, until they did some creative thinking. Voila, perpetual organized crime.

    Getting out of prison in this job market can hardly expect to be a leavening experience. Should we be handing them a set of burglar tools at the gate, or maybe an apprenticeship at a hedge fund. One way or another if crime stops paying, someones got to pick up the tab.

    Do I think this problem will be at all contemplated, not as long as we’ll have all those empty prison beds – refill, refill.

  20. Not all cannabis impairs memory. Cannabis composition determines its effects on the brain. link to scientificamerican.com

    The selection of the right type of cannabis can actually reduce the risk of psychosis and not increase it. link to ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, link to schres-journal.com

    So many other medications including SSRI’s such as Prozac Zoloft and Paxil can cause psychosis and are not only legal, but are very commonly prescribed.

    There is currently an epidemic of Oxycontin and other pain drugs. In terms of toxicity, marijuana is by far the very safest pain reliever. Nobody has EVER died from an overdose of marijuana. This can’t be said for any other medication including Tylenol which can be frequently fatal link to medscape.org

    In terms of its safety and side effect profile, cannabis is the one of the safest therapeutic substance used in medicine today.

    • [In terms of its safety and side effect profile, cannabis is the one of the safest therapeutic substance used in medicine today.]

      Then why they promote smoking “medical” marijuana? What about extracting its active components and using it as any other drug?

    • Thank you very much for the interesting 2011 reference (excerpt:An increasing number of authors identify cannabidiol, another component of the cannabis plant, as an antipsychotic agent). A consideration would be that this was a study of cannabis users and was a self-reporting study.
      In terms of psychosis I would think that tricycĺics are even worse than SSRIs.

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