Cost benefit analysis of two policy options for cannabis: status quo and legalisation

Marian Shanahan, Alison Ritter
PloS One 2014, 9 (4): e95569

AIMS: To date there has been limited analysis of the economic costs and benefits associated with cannabis legalisation. This study redresses this gap. A cost benefit analysis of two cannabis policy options the status quo (where cannabis use is illegal) and a legalised-regulated option was conducted.

METHOD: A cost benefit analysis was used to value the costs and benefits of the two policies in monetary terms. Costs and benefits of each policy option were classified into five categories (direct intervention costs, costs or cost savings to other agencies, benefits or lost benefits to the individual or the family, other impacts on third parties, and adverse or spill over events). The results are expressed as a net social benefit (NSB).

FINDINGS: The mean NSB per annum from Monte Carlo simulations (with the 5 and 95 percentiles) for the status quo was $294.6 million AUD ($201.1 to $392.7 million) not substantially different from the $234.2 million AUD ($136.4 to $331.1 million) for the legalised-regulated model which excludes government revenue as a benefit. When government revenue is included, the NSB for legalised-regulated is higher than for status quo. Sensitivity analyses demonstrate the significant impact of educational attainment and wellbeing as drivers for the NSB result.

CONCLUSION: Examining the percentiles around the two policy options, there appears to be no difference between the NSB for these two policy options. Economic analyses are essential for good public policy, providing information about the extent to which one policy is substantially economically favourable over another. In cannabis policy, for these two options this does not appear to be the case.

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