The results are in: The tobacco ban in California prisons is fueling a violent black market where cigarettes are now selling for $125 a pack!
On July 1, 2005, a policy went into effect banning smoking in all California prisons. The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City) was sold as a way to save millions in healthcare costs and improve the health of prisoners and corrections workers alike. While there is some logic to this rhetoric, the new prohibition has not prevented prisoners from smoking. Instead, it has led to a huge prison black market in cigarettes and increased violence behind bars!
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that banning cigarettes can never deliver on its promise to rid jails of cigarettes, but would inevitably lead to skyrocketing black-market prices and violence. My op-ed in the SF Chronicle, published just two weeks after the ban went into effect, predicted the collateral consequences of the ban.
The policy and ban may have one silver lining: it makes clear that cigarette prohibition, whether in our prisons or on the streets of America, would be disastrous. Outlawing cigarettes may seem crazy but when the Drug Policy Alliance commissioned a Zogby Poll last July, we were shocked to find that 45% would support a federal law making cigarettes illegal within five to ten years. Fifty-seven percent of 18- to 29-year-olds would support making cigarettes illegal.
Elected officials, public heath professionals and all those who want to reduce the harms of smoking, beware of prohibition. All we need to do is look at the prison ban to see the dire consequences of banning tobacco. Smoking is bad; prohibition is worse!