Via a socially conservative friend, I received this Op-Ed by Kevin Sabet arguing against pot legalization.  In support of his thesis that “the price of legalizing pot is too high”, he points to these statistics:

Accidents would increase, healthcare costs would rise and productivity would suffer. Legal alcohol serves as a good example: The $8 billion in tax revenue generated from that widely used drug does little to offset the nearly $200 billion in social costs attributed to its use.

Let’s ignore for today the problematic use of alcohol statistics to predict the effects of marijuana use.  But if alcohol is such a dehabilitating drug, why don’t we accept the wisdom of alcohol prohibition?  Sabet doesn’t so much as hint that a return to prohibition would be desirable.  My friend who forwarded me the article was also opposed to the idea (“But I like drinking alcohol,” he explained).

But still, $200 billion dollars is a lot of money.  What’s the breakdown of that cost?  Apparently 14% is for health care, 13% is law-enforcement expenditures, and the remaining 73% is bullshit.

Or “lost productivity”, to be exact.  I can’t be troubled to look up exactly how the government imagines together this figure, but I assume that it represents more or less the lost work-force participation or reduced efficiency of those who consume drugs.

You might as well complain about the “lost productivity” caused by workers taking unpaid vacations.  If workers prefer vacation to longer hours, it is because they prefer the utility of the vacation to the utility of the extra wages.  Drugs are no different.  If we (somehow costlessly) forced people not to consume alcohol, the wages they would gain from their renewed productivity just wouldn’t be “worth” as much to them.  Or else why do people naturally prefer the alcohol?

So $200 billion is not a high enough cost for Kevin Sabet to even tentatively suggest alcohol prohibition.  Subtract out the bullshit, and the figure is a lot closer to $50 billion.  If the imaginary costs of drugs don’t justify prohibition, the smaller real costs don’t either.  Nor do such carelessly unconsidered arguments justify pot prohibition.