It's About Deficits & Finite Resources, Not About Hippies Who Want to Get Stoned

by: David Sirota

Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 09:15


The story of drug policy is often told through the lens of hypocrisy and potential revenues. How contradictory is it for us to legalize and promote alcohol, but ban marijuana? And at a time of deficits, how much public revenue could we generate by legalizing marijuana and taxing it?

These are important points - but just as significant are the two other questions that don't get much attention: How much public money are we now wasting by criminalizing marijuana, and how much is that criminalization endangering our security?

I raise these questions not just to highlight how much the prison-industrial complex's "zero tolerance" drug laws are making us spend on incarcerating non-violent drug offenders, but to additionally highlight how huge a chunk of law enforcement resources are now going to enforce drug laws - rather than to protect our communities.

At a national level, we know, for instance, that much of the resources being plowed into using the Patriot Act are being used not to fight terrorism, but to enforce prohibitionist drug laws. This trend is now bleeding into local law enforcement operations as well. Case in point is the massive anti-pot operation here in Colorado. In a state so choked by budget deficits that we're slashing our police force to the bone, our law enforcement officials are spending huge amounts of public money busting pot grow houses.

Remember, these are finite resources - creating a huge task force aimed at stopping pot growers means we can't, say, create a similarly sized task force aimed at investigating securities fraud or even stopping violent street crime.

What's so appalling about this is the response from the law enforcement Establishment. Here in Colorado - a state that has legalized medical marijuana - the Drug Enforcement Agency is attacking legal medical marijuana dispensaries for supposedly providing business to dangerous Mexican drug cartels. That's right, at the same time the DEA is working to shut down domestic marijuana grow houses (many of them potentially totally legal businesses) and limit marijuana supply, they are complaining that medical marijuana dispensaries may be inadvertently buying their supply from illicit sources.

Interestingly, the DEA is accidentally making an argument against itself. If it is afraid that legal medical marijuana dispensaries are sending business to Mexican cartels, then the solution is for the DEA to help expand the legal supply of domestic medicinal marijuana.

But that's not about to happen. Just like the military Establishment has been hostile to the White House's refusal to rubber-stamp the Pentagon's demand for an Afghanistan escalation, the DEA seems hostile to the Obama Justice Department's recent directive telling the agency to respect states' medical marijuana laws. As attorney Rob Corry told the Ft. Collins Coloradoan, we may have "a set of rogue agents from the DEA who are blatantly...violating the express explicit written directives from their own bosses."

And so the huge waste of resources will likely continue - a huge waste of law enforcement resources at a time of massive deficits.

Of course, when President Obama laughed off a drug policy question at his online townhall meeting in March, he did what most politicians do on the issue: imply it is only important to Dirty Fucking Hippies who want to get high. But ultimately, that's not what this is about in the public policy arena. It is about where we should be spending finite resources. I don't know about you, but I'd be much more comfortable with the money being spent busting pot growers going instead into regulating Wall Street, stopping bank/mortgage fraud and preventing the kind of run-of-the-mill violent crimes that plague our communities.  

David Sirota :: It's About Deficits & Finite Resources, Not About Hippies Who Want to Get Stoned

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Whatever the reasoning (0.00 / 0)
and your's is certainly on target, the recreational use of marijuana is a huge cash cow just waiting to be tapped. Not just tax revenues. The know-how and entreprenurial creativity of the folks in the USA would make Amsterdam coffee-houses look quaint and archaic.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


Over half (4.00 / 2)
Over half of the two million people in jail or prison are there for non-violent drug crimes.  Prisons are obscenely expensive.  We have literally cut back on schools, roads and health care to pay for this monstousity.  California would still be a functioning state without this. NY, NJ, and IL would be in much better shape without this expensive baggage.  Deficits?  No way.  Property taxes?  Reduced sharply.  Republican tax cutters?  Obsolete.

[ Parent ]
I'm not disagreeing with David or you on those points (4.00 / 1)
I was trying to expand the notion a bit. Besides, maybe all those out of work prison guards will be able to find work at the newly opened pot resorts that will pop up in those states open-minded enough to legalize (and regulate) recreational use of marijuana.  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
That number rises to over seven million (4.00 / 2)
when you take into account people on probation, parole or other forms of police supervision.  And I believe that the two million figure only refers to adults.

[ Parent ]
This issue is yet another iteration of the classic micro versus macro (0.00 / 0)
or Oprah versus Bill Moyers approach to policy debates.

Thank you for touching on the real issues underlying marijuana legalization, and their broader implications for taxation and law enforcement more generally than is the norm.  

Our inane and indefensible approach to vice policing in this country is, of course, precisely why we see the debate in these narrow terms.  Besides the problem of pill-popping puritaniacal hypocrites like Nancy Reagan who cannot imagine what ending the war on drugs would look like, as you very well know, there are a lot of deeply entrenched, deeply monied interests who have a huge stake in keeping drug policing policies as they are.  

This is among the reasons why we talk about it in the politically anodyne language of personal choices rather than social outcomes.  Not that there's anything the least bit wrong with people who just want to get high.          


Is There Any Evidence (0.00 / 0)
regarding how deaths are caused by driving under the influence of marijuana?  What is the evidence of domestic abuse regarding marijuana use?  The list on questions goes on. . .  I strongly doubt it is high compared to alcholic related incidents.

Legitimate points (0.00 / 0)
but part of the same logic that the original post seeks to challenge.  

[ Parent ]
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