An Expensive War Against Marijuana

Marijuana users cost U.S. tax payers over a billion dollars last year.

That figure doesn’t include the cost of paying undercover narcs in San Diego to pretend to be high school students for an entire semester so they can bust 15 students for selling a total of 6.3 grams of marijuana, five tabs of ecstasy, 6.4 grams of psychedelic mushrooms, and 12 prescription pain pills.

That figure also doesn’t include the personal disadvantages in income and career for millions of people with a prison record due to posession of marijuana.

One billion dollars is simply the cost of incarcerating citizens arrested for pot.

Prisons for Marijuana Users

Over 12 percent of all state and federal inmates are serving time for marijuana offenses, according to numbers recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. That’s over 44,500 people in prison at an average incarceration cost well over $20,000 per year.

In addition, 786,545 people were arrested and NOT locked away in 2005, costing taxpayers another $8 billion annually to pay for the criminal justice costs. Of those arrested, less than 13% were charged with “sale/manufacture.”

These totals, the highest ever recorded by the FBI, show that the current all-out-of-perspective punishment for marijuana possession is not even a successful deterrent.

Putting Punishment in Perspective

According to federal statistics, 94 million Americans (40% or the population) have used marijuana. The relative risks to users and society are arguably less than the risks of alcohol and tobacco. While it’s debatable whether to make marijuana a legal substance or not, what’s becoming less and less debatable is that the punishment is too costly, both to the people being locked away, and to the law-abiding taxpayers having to foot the bill.

A better punishment might be a fine. For instance, speeding is still illegal in this country; we just don’t lock people away for 10 years because they were driving 70 mph in a 65 mph zone.

[tags]marijuana, pot, prison, incarceration[/tags]

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