For several decades the U.S. government has been at war with the drug trade. Multiplied millions have been spent and we haven’t made a dent in the sale and use of mind altering substances. I wonder how many millions pot smokers cost U.S. taxpayers each year?
According to the Associated Press, at the beginning of 2008, using state by state data, 3,218,358 Americans are in jail or prison. That is about 1 of 99.1. Shocking numbers huh? And, according to other data I have seen, a very conservative estimate is that about 12 % of Federal inmates are there for marijuana felony convictions and the percentage is much higher at the state and local level, perhaps as much as 25%. A very conservative estimate is that between 300,000 to well over 400,000 U.S. citizens are in jail for marijuana offences. The numbers have improved slightly at the Federal level but have increased at the local and state level so that the net numbers are still climbing.
Government estimates are that each year $7, 500, 000 is spent fighting the drug marijuana alone. And add to that number another $7, 000, 000 users spend buying marijuana each year and you have a minimum of $14, 500,00 sucked out of the nations economy each year not counting the cost of keeping offenders in jail.
On the west coast states have allowed people to grow their own pot for years and in some jurisdictions it is even prescribed for medical purposes. Those states and towns have no worse problem with drug related offences that the rest of the country. My conclusion is that the U.S. should legalize the growing and use of marijuana. I never thought I would say such a thing but if anyone has better solution I would like to hear it.
Now, let me hasten to say, I wish there was no marijuana on the planet, we would be far better off. I don’t use it, have never used it, and don’t want others to use it. Here is my logic and the reasons I have come haltingly to this conclusion.
If pot is made legal, first prices would fall so fast that street sales would be virtually gone in a few months. And, users would stop committing crimes to get money to buy it. (Remember Prohibition?) Most of the crimes are for possession, possession with intent to distribute, etc. People who are caught driving under the influence, or misbehaving in some other way, should be arrested and put in jail just like someone who is under the influence of alcohol.
I know the argument well, Marijuana is a “gateway drug”. It is and I am aware of that. However, alcohol is a far greater “gateway” to the drug world. And, I just read detailed statistics from the Dept of Justice showing that with the exception of two categories the use of alcohol is used more of the time than pot before crimes are committed.
Legalize pot and instantly U.S. taxpayers save $7, 500, 000 each year not counting treatment, prison related costs, public defenders etc., and another $7, 000,000 can be spent on goods and services in our economy rather than giving it to street thugs. The way to eliminate drug lords is to take their market away. Of course we will still have the curse of the more dangerous drugs but at least we could rid ourselves of part of the problem. 300,000 t0 400,000 less folks in jail would result in enormous amounts of money saved.
What do you think? How can we solve the problem? So far, all we have done is waste zillions of dollars and have saved no lives, made our society no safer or better in any way, and there is no hope on the horizon.
By the way, tobacco kills more people than any other thing I can think of and not only is it legal, some of our church members use it and by doing so teach their children and grand children its a good idea. I know someone will jump on me like a pit bull but before you leap, what about all the over the counter and prescription junk a huge percentage of our congregations are using that they don’t need?
I won’t jump on you like a pit bull; in fact, I will second your motion. You are right that the war on drugs has accomplished virtually nothing in addressing the drug problem in the U.S.
There are multiple negative consequences to filling up prisons with non-violent marijuana offenders. Obviously, the space and resources used could go to taking truly violent people off of the streets. Secondly, there is a reason that prisons are known as “gladiator academies.” A convict may enter prison as a non-violent offender, but I guarantee you that he will not exit the same (if he survives at all).
I am no fan of weed. It has ruined the marriages and lives of people that I love. Furthermore, as a substance abuse counselor I see the wreckage of drug use every single day. But weed is no more destructive than alcohol and possibly less so. And how many people in our congregations drink (or as you pointed out, use tobacco)?
The money that we save from legalizing pot could go to prevention and treatment, without ruining lives in the process.
Thanks for writing about this. And great title, by the way.
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Think of the lives and money we’d save if we stopped trying to be the police of the world. Bring that money home and spend it on health care, bridge repair, road rebuilding, college education, etc… instead of war.
I know, different topic, but I also have a pet peeve.
I do believe that medical marjiauna should be allowed. There are many people who are suffering with cancer, AIDS, and other diseases where you have severe pain and loss of appitite that I believe could help them.
Thanks, Royce, for this post.
Seems like the late William F. Buckley, Jr. used to make similar points on legalization. I know that you two aren’t the only ones. We just don’t hear arguments for legalization very much.
A question about booze versus weed: isn’t a high person (under the influence of marijuana) more likely to be a safe driver than someone who is loop-legged drunk? I wonder about that.
At any rate, like you, I get irritated at the priviledged status of certain drugs among us. And while I’m glad that smoking is on the decline in the U.S., it seems as though the tobacco companies aren’t too worried since they have huge and expanding markets in places like China and India.
Very provocative post Royce.
As the old folks used to say- puts me to thinkin.
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me, I am not in favor of any drug, including alcohol and tobacco.
I am in favor of being pragmatic. In my view (the one I most cherish) it is senseless to imprison thousands of folks who have been no more threat to themselves or the general public than the guy who slams a 12 pack of beer a week.
Over the years, I have known professionals (medical professionals, managers, tradesmen, etc.) who regularly smoke pot and have for many years. They don’t deserve to go to jail any more than the guy who sometimes has a glass of wine with a meal or drinks a can of beer on a hot day. I undertand it is against the law to possess pot. I am saying it is a silly law, does the country no good, and has done nothing but cost taxpayers tons of money, and as someone has suggested, places many, many young people in prison where they can get a degree in real crime.
Thanks to all of you guys for stopping by Grace Digest and for your civility.
I realized a huge mistake in my numbers only after it was too late to edit.
The figures are BILLIONS not millions.
The war on drugs is fruitless, it is a terrible waste of money. Today I visited with a pharmacy consultant and he was telling me about a study where students 21 year olds half were given 5 drinks and the other half 50 mg of benadryl and then they were asked to drive a course and the students that had the five drinks drove better than the ones on the adverage dose of benadryl. I found that a little disturbing. I have heard that soon we will not be able to even buy vitamins in usefull doses. That was off the subject. I do not even need to get started on the abuses of the health care industry and government waste. We are out of control in every area. I would have to say all we can do is look to God.