Lately, I've been hearing arguments about how decriminalization of marijuana would be good for the state. It would allow the state to devote scarce resources to other areas and would constitute a source of tax revenue. These arguments, while true in a sense, are misguided.
First off, police resources are not especially scarce if seat belt check points and undercover airport bathroom surveillance operations are any indicator. The police devoted to pot would probably not be transferred to anything more helpful. And forget about cutting police budgets! How would that be good for the state?
Secondly, the War on Drugs isn't really about stopping drugs. It's about providing an unquestioned rationale for massive programs of surveillance and harassment in poor neighborhoods. It's about providing cops and prosecutors with leverage against suspects in other offenses. It's about creating an atmosphere in which eavesdropping, snitchng, no-knock raids, and other violations of basic rights are tolerated and celebrated by the public.
Thirdly, the tax revenue generated by taxes on drugs would not be enough to make up for the massive infusions of revenue that the public gleefully pays now in order to fight the War on Drugs. The state needs the crisis of drugs to frighten the populace into funding a police state, a bloated prison system, and programs of indoctrination. Won't someone think of the children?!?
Decriminalizing marijuana would be the thin end of the wedge, a dangerous precedent which could lead to calls to decriminalize other substances. The state would place at risk an important source of revenue and power, and, what is worse, would take the risk that demystifying the War on Drugs might lead to further demystification.
Perhaps an argument could be made for decriminalization as a benefit to the state along the lines of public lotteries. In that case, gambling, a terrible evil the state had to combat, became a positive good when controlled by the state. Perhaps one could argue that state run and state controlled marijuana production and sales, with the proceeds going to some benign program such as Head Start or Physical Fitness, would transform pot into a good thing. This would mean no loss of revenue and no loss of power (the state would still have absolute power to interdict non-state sources) and would allow trhe state to be seen as the beneficent provider of pot induced bliss. Everybody wins. The state stays powerful, and the subjects get to smoke pot to help them forget about the state.