One GIF Shows the Hellscape America Would Become If We Legalize Marijuana

Source: AP
Source: AP


Graphic by Chris Walker. Data from the New America Foundation and the Cato Institute. Both figures in 2011 dollars.

Far from tearing apart the social fabric of America, as some opponents say, legalizing marijuana could be exactly what’s needed to rebuild our communities.

Take a look at the GIF above. Legalizing marijuana would create a whopping $18.1 billion annually in government funds. That's right, 18 BILLION. With that money, we could guarantee universal access to pre-K education for every single child.

In case there's any doubt about how much that could benefit the country, consider this: Universal pre-K would be transformational for American public education. 

Last year a Harvard study found that pre-K education improved “children’s language, literacy, math, executive function (the ability to regulate, control, and manage one’s thinking and actions), and emotional development.” Pre-k puts more kids on track to succeed down the road.

And the benefits reach far into adulthood. In another study, University of Minnesota researchers found that people were less likely to have been arrested or incarcerated 25 years after participating in a pre-K program, compared to people who hadn’t gone through pre-K.

The methodology: The $18.1 billion figure comes from a Cato Institute report, which takes into account savings from no longer enforcing prohibition, as well as from new marijuana sales tax revenue. Cato assumes marijuana would be taxed at similar rates as alcohol and tobacco.

Meanwhile, government needs an additional $15.4 billion annually to make pre-K access universal, according to the New America Foundation. Keep in mind we're talking about universal access to pre-K, not compulsory pre-K. Therefore the New America Foundation estimates roughly 75% of 4-year-olds would actually participate if pre-K access were universal.

Still, 75% is a massive improvement from 28%—the percentage enrolled last year—according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. Having universal access to pre-K this year would have translated to 2 million more 4-year-olds participating in pre-K programs.

The math is simple: The example of Colorado, which has already generated $34 million in marijuana tax revenue this year, proves that when marijuana is legalized, society doesn’t degenerate into drug-induced anarchy.

Legalization creates much-needed funds for government. As the financials above show, society as a whole can reap substantial benefits.

Technical Note: The New America Foundation presents its figures in 2011 dollars. The Cato Institute figure has been adjusted to 2011 dollars.

Graphic created with code open-sourced by Dan Foreman-Mackey.

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Chris Walker

Chris heads up interactive content and data visualization at Mic. Previously he blogged about data visualization while traveling around India, and before that he worked on big data applications at Palantir Technologies. Chris grew up in the SF Bay Area and graduated from Stanford. In his free time he's training for a marathon and trying to become a better cook.

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