The most recent newsletter of the ACLU has a report on the costs of incarceration, including the staggering amounts paid to enforce marijuana prohibition. In 2010, the states spent 3.6 billion dollars and made one pot arrest every 37 seconds. And how did this aggressive enforcement work out? Marijuana use increased.
Think about that next time state governments wail about not having enough money to support public education, pave highways, or provide other necessary services.
As I have noted previously, the nation could save an amount equal to the cuts made by sequestration just by substituting sensible regulations for our disastrous drug war.
Current laws are wildly illogical for all sorts of reasons.
The biggest problem with the War on Drugs is that it is being fought on the wrong battlefield. Drug abuse is a public health issue. Behaviors connected to the use of drugs–driving while impaired, theft to support a habit, etc.–should be addressed by the criminal law, but the mere use of a substance deemed harmful is a health issue, and should be addressed as a health issue. (Speaking of health, marijuana is actually less harmful to users than tobacco, yet we have wildly different approaches to pot and tobacco use–undoubtedly the result of a much more effective tobacco lobby. According to police officers I know, people who use pot are significantly less likely to become violent than people who abuse alcohol, yet we outlaw pot, but regulate and tax alcohol and tobacco.)
Current laws are financially ruinous. The US spends roughly 60 billion dollars annually on drug prohibition, and we get virtually no bang for those bucks because the “war” is ineffective. We also forgo collection of billions of dollars in potential tax revenues that we would collect if we simply taxed pot like we treat alcohol and tobacco. We waste criminal justice resources that would be better used elsewhere, to treat drug abuse or to deter nonconsensual crimes that actually harm others.
Drug prohibition has focused disproportionately on African-American and Latino neighborhoods, exacerbating racial tensions. Black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than their white neighbors, despite statistics confirming comparable levels of use–and the ACLU reports that the disparity in some counties grows to as much as 30 times!
We’ve lost this war. Not that the War on Drugs has ever been effective; the percentage of Americans who use hard drugs is pretty much the same as it has always been. Pot use has ebbed and flowed over time, providing the only real changes in the numbers. Thirty plus years of research has consistently demonstrated the utter failure of American drug policy, and the error of the premises upon which it has been constructed. (Pot smokers become hard drug users in about the same percentages as milk drinkers do, and we don’t outlaw milk as a “gateway drug.”) The only thing the Drug War has done effectively is ruin the lives of (disproportionately black) teenagers who are imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes.
What is frustrating is the number of policymakers who respond to this mountain of evidence with a renewed enthusiasm for measures that have consistently failed.