Like many, I participated in the 2008 call for change, believing that a change in direction was needed in national security, foreign policy, and economic and domestic programs. I’m relieved that our President is taking action on these fronts by announcing his intent to close Guantanamo Bay, establishing a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, increasing engagement with global friends and foes, pursuing regulatory change in our financial markets, and working with Congress to establish a sustainable health care program. However, our government has yet to take significant action in an area that I deem critical: greater funding of higher education.
During election seasons past, a common chorus is repeated by almost every candidate about the value of education. This refrain is pleasing to the voter ear, and for good reason. I can think of no better investment toward the promise of change in our country. That said, it is my view that present government subsidies for higher education are little more than a tease for middle class students. Thankfully, grants exist for the underprivileged, which help level the playing field. But the next logical step is to make it possible for any student who wishes to do so to attend an institution of higher learning for up to two years after high school graduation at taxpayer expense.
I realize the notion of a government funded college education seems surreal, but it should not be dismissed on the grounds that college has always come with a heavy price tag. According to an article written by Jon Shure in the New Jersey Policy Perspective, "a lot of public money already funds college costs; making college free would mean adding only an additional $30-$60 billion a year. (Shure)"
$30-$60 billion a year—half that for a two-year program. In terms of cost/benefit ratio, this is hardly a significant number. Economically speaking, all citizens benefit from a more educated population. One shining example of this idea appears in technological advancement: more computer specialists, programmers and engineers means the U.S. can continue to lead the world in delivering innovative technology. A more educated population also depends less on welfare programs and produces fewer criminals. Education simply promises more stability for our society and ensures we can compete in the global marketplace.
With this in mind, I have no doubt that increasing federal funding for college education could garner popular support. But where do we find the $15-30 billion per year needed to make two years of higher education possible for every high school graduate? We could follow the usual path by attempting to reallocate government spending, a trying process, no doubt. We could consider a tax increase, although, given current economic challenges, that path is not likely to be fruitful. Conversely, we could think outside the box a bit.
The method I favor is the legalization and taxation of marijuana. As a fundraising proposition, it may seem distasteful, immoral, or even played out, but it should be a legitimate candidate for consideration. I believe that marijuana use is prohibited in our society largely as a matter of tradition. Alcohol prohibition in the U.S. was short-lived due almost entirely to American societal norms – alcohol use was simply too engrained in our culture to amputate. And despite decades of effort to prohibit marijuana use, the reality is that, as a general rule, alcohol is more difficult for a minor to access than marijuana. Having acknowledged this perspective, the reader may assume that I am immersed in the culture, but this is hardly the case. Marijuana plays no role in my life, so I come to this position with no hidden agenda.
I advocate marijuana legalization only for the positive financial implications toward expanded funding of college education. As noted in a report compiled by Dr. Jeffery Miron, a professor of economics from Harvard University, marijuana legalization would reduce spending on drug control by $7.7 billion a year (Miron, 2005). Marijuana would also produce $6.2 billion nationally in tax revenue if sin taxed. Miron's work has been endorsed by many economic scholars, including Nobel Laureates Milton Freidman, George Akerlof, and Vernon Smith. Were marijuana to be legalized and taxed, Americans could contribute another $13.9 billion dollars toward college education.
If another, more viable option for funding college education exists, I’m all ears. However, for those championing the "marijuana is bad for you" argument, I only ask that you take an objective look at the facts at hand. Alcohol and tobacco products are certainly not good for anyone, but they remain well-entrenched in our society. Is marijuana more harmful than either of those? That is debatable. But the question I leave you with is hopefully less ambiguous. Which is potentially more devastating for the typical American citizen, marijuana use or the lack of a college education?
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