Negative Externalities: Marijuana v. Alcohol

The marijuana versus alcohol debate is one that almost everyone has participated in. The statistics on which is more detrimental to the body have been broadcast in every news report and Buzzfeed blog. However, it is not how these drugs negatively affect one person that is the most important issue. The cost to the public is far more telling of which is worse than the cost to one’s personal health. People will do whatever they desire behind closed doors, it is when the effects spill onto society that there are serious consequences. The negative externalities of alcohol far exceed those of marijuana, making alcohol the worse drug for society. 
Money obviously affects society greatly. The cost of the police force and prison upkeep comes directly from people because it comes from state and federal taxes. Therefore it is considered a burden on the public to have excessive expenses in policing and imprisoning people for alcohol and marijuana. One would think that because marijuana is illegal the cost of policing it would be much higher. However, that is not the case. In England for example, “the cost of policing cannabis use was only £500 million a year, mainly for issuing possession warning notices, compared with the £6 billion a year bill for policing the use of alcohol, including dealing with people who were drunk and disorderly.” It took about 12x the money to police marijuana to police alcohol. The crimes associated with marijuana are normally ones that only affect the criminals. For example distribution and possession are the main crimes people are arrested for in conjunction with marijuana. Those crimes only affect the person who is committing the crime. By contrast, crimes associated with alcohol impact multiple people. Examples are: DUIs, drunk and disorderlies, sexual or physical assault, and even manslaughter or murder. All of these affect people who have nothing to do with alcohol. 27% of aggravated assaults had alcohol involved and 37% of rapes and sexual assaults had alcohol involved. Roughly half of all homicides in the U.S were related to alcohol consumption. Overall 5.3 million or 36% of people in prison were drinking or under the influence of alcohol at the time of the convicted crime. There is no statistically credible evidence of marijuana being linked to violence. Of course, this may be due to the fact that there is a smaller pool of users to pull data from. (A poll showed that 41% of the American population have tried marijuana. Whereas, 51% of Americans (18 or older) are regular alcohol drinkers.) Alcohol is a much greater cost to society not only financially but with violence against people. Marijuana is rarely linked to violent crimes, and if it were to be legalized the cost of arresting people for possession and distribution would no longer be a factor.

Death and injury also have a large social cost, because of the fees that come with them.  Especially injury because then the injured person has to go to the hospital. Healthcare fees are also taken from public taxes. In 2010, 2,669,987 people were hospitalized in the US for either Alcohol Dependence Syndrome (1,013,634), Non-dependent abuse of alcohol (774,177), Chronic Liver Disease and Cirrhosis (852,354), or Alcohol Poisoning (29,822). Any one or combination of these health emergencies could kill a person. So there is the cost to the individual, but there is also cost to the hospital, which means a higher price for the public. These people must be treated and sometimes have life saving surgeries (a liver transplant for example). There is little credible data on marijuana induced hospitalizations. The most reliable of data is a study of hospitalizations from 1961 to 1969 in Los Angeles. The study showed that of the 701,057 patients admitted, nine were admitted regarding marijuana use. Three patients had the mild effects that marijuana induces on everyone, dizziness or euphoria, one patient was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but his was a pre-existing condition. The others presented symptoms of simply ingesting too much, such as vomiting, fever, and chills. Though the data is older, it still stands that there are hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations due to alcohol, while there are hundreds (at most) due to marijuana. And of those marijuana induced hospitalizations, the “injuries” were only to the individual. Whereas with alcohol injuries other people can be hurt, like someone killed because they were hit by a drunk driver. Alcohol creates a greater risk for injury to the individual and others.

When asked, most people might say that because marijuana is more of a "drug" in the traditional sense of the word, it is worse for society. But upon closer inspection, alcohol has a greater cost to society and therefore is the more harmful drug. Marijuana has a negative connotation because the general public considers it to be a drug and not alcohol. They are both drugs, yet one has more positive uses than just recreational use. Marijuana, or more specifically the cannabis plant can be used for medicine, food, clothes, paper, and many other things. Alcohol is only a recreational drug, sterilizing agent, and sometimes used as fuel. There are more uses for alcohol other than recreation, but there are far more positive uses for the cannabis plant. Alcohol has more negative externalities and fewer positive uses. Therefore, in terms of societal cost, alcohol is the more detrimental drug.

Comments (4)

Allison Kelly (Student 2016)
Allison Kelly

I feel as though this was a very unique paper considering the comparison of alcohol and marijuana. There are plenty of papers out about alcohol as there are weed, but to compare them in this way was really cool. The statistics really helped with understanding all of the points made. Good job bud.

Jacklyn Middleswarth (Student 2016)
Jacklyn Middleswarth

I didn't really ever think about connecting alcohol and marijuana as which one was worth. But it really made me realize that even though SOOO many people drink, it doesn't mean they are doing it safely. Maybe a counter argument could be that yes they are both drugs and both bad, but there are other drugs that are worse than alcohol that are costly.

Isabella Beato (Student 2016)
Isabella Beato

I really like this paper. I think you really captured modern society today. I think people can argue that people don't need to do any of this but that's not gonna happen.

Jade Schweitzer (Student 2016)
Jade Schweitzer

Your statistics where very helpful for understanding your point and what you where trying to convey. The only suggestion I would have, is for in the beginning of the paper when you use the pound system for England's statistic, that you had in parentheses how much that would be in american dollars. Really just because it makes it more relatable. The paper itself is very well put together and you where able to take a very over done topic, and introduce a more refreshing view with statistics to back it up. Great job.