The Cato Institute and the Drug War


A visit to the Cato Institute website can be a mind bending experience. Imagine my astonishment on discovering that that my views on drug reform are virtually identical to those of an conservative think tank.

The Cato Institute’s position is that the US should legalize – not decriminalize – all addictive drugs. They justify their viewpoint based on two comprehensive studies: the 2010 Drug Prohibition White Paper by Miron and Waldcock and the 2009 Drug Decriminalization in Portugal. by Glenn Greenwald (that’s right, the same  progressive Guardian columnist who first published whistleblower Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations in 2013).

An $88 Billion Windfall for Taxpayers

In addition to citing numerous studies showing that criminalization of drug abuse worsens the drug problem, the White Paper calculates that the US could save $41.3 billion dollars from legalizing addictive drugs, as well as collecting an additional $46.7 billion in revenue from regulating and taxing drugs of addiction. The difference between legalization and decriminalization is that drug smugglers and suppliers are still prosecuted under decriminalization. This, according to Cato, makes full legalization more beneficial to taxpayers, as permitting legal production and distribution of drugs allows them to be taxed.

The following is a brief breakdown of the financial benefits of drug legalization:


  • State and local savings: $25.7 billion
  • Federal savings: $15.6 billion
  • Savings from legalizing marijuana: $8.7 billion
  • Savings from legalizing other drugs of addiction: $32.6 billion

Tax Revenue

  • Projected revenue from taxing marijuana: $8.7 billion
  • Projected revenue from taxing other drugs of addiction: $38 billion


The Portuguese Experiment with Decriminalization

Drug Decriminalization in Portugal describes the Portuguese experiment with decriminalizing all addictive drugs in 2001. According to Greenwald, full legalization wasn’t an option, owing to international treaties Portugal had signed. Under the 2001 law, police issue citations to addicts, rather than arresting them. They then have 72 hours to report to a Dissuasion Commission, which can order a range of sanctions, including “absolution” (a finding that no drug abuse has occurred), a verbal warning, suspension of drivers and professional licenses, bans on visiting high risk locales or associating with known drug abusers, on-going monitoring for proof of abstinence, prohibition against foreign travel and suspension of welfare benefits.

Outcome studies show that the new law has resulted in surge in drug treatment in Portugal. Prior to 2001, the main barrier to treatment was addicts’ fear of arrest and prosecution. There has also been a clear reduction in drug abuse in the pre-adolescents and adolescents – a formative age group for behavioral patterns that are key determinants of future drug abuse.

The prediction by law and order proponents that decriminalization would lead to a massive increase in drug abuse never eventuated. Portuguese drug abuse rates, once among the highest in Europe, are now among the lowest. The other dire prediction, that druggies from all over Europe would flock to Portugal to get loaded, also proved unfounded. As of 2006, 95% of drug abusers receiving citations were Portuguese and 0% were from other European Union countries.

Cato, by the way, has found a way to save taxpayers another $180 billion by legalizing 8.3 million illegal immigrants. Go figure.

photo credit: guillermogg via photopin cc

9 thoughts on “The Cato Institute and the Drug War

  1. “There has also been a clear reduction in drug abuse in the pre-adolescents and adolescents – a formative age group for behavioral patterns that are key determinants of future drug abuse.”

    I am glad to see this because my baby sister started using street drugs in her adolescent years and her abuse of drugs only ended with her death last year. And it did not matter that she was brilliant, talented and educated, drugs took over her life.

    Thank you for posting this Dr. Bramhall!


  2. Pingback: Was Silk Road Founder Framed? | The Most Revolutionary Act

  3. Pingback: An Insider’s View of Drug Smuggling | The Most Revolutionary Act

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