Maybe one reason we're not making any headway in the war on terror is
that we're wasting more time, money and effort than ever doing battle
with that other mortal threat to the Republic: American marijuana
smokers. We're no closer to catching Osama, but we're doing a historic
job of busting potheads.
Last year the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses in the
U.S. hit an all-time high of 829,625, according to the href="http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/arrests/index.html"> FBI.
That makes the fourth year in a row that pot busts have set new
records. In each of those years, the number of marijuana arrests was
far higher than the total for all violent crimes. And no, it's not
only dealers who are getting nabbed. Almost nine out of ten of those
arrests were for simple possession.
None of which has had any real impact on the availability, price,
potency or use of the demon weed. It does have a serious impact on the
lives of those convicted of pot charges, though. A recent
study by the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics found that in
many states, having a marijuana conviction on your record can make you
ineligible for food stamps, public housing and student financial aid
(sometimes even if you're a
Hurricane Katrina victim). You can be barred from entering certain
professions, adopting a child or even voting.
And for the rest of us, the battle against buds is costing us massively
in cash and public safety. How much of the time our police should be
spending protecting our communities is being wasted on chasing stoners?
Violent crime rates have href="http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/offenses/violent_crime/
index.html">been rising for the past two years - wouldn't you
rather have the cops putting their energy into doing something about
How many millions of tax dollars are getting flushed down the rathole,
processing these stupid cases through the courts and locking up their
defendants? Here's one clue. As of 2004, there were over 40,000 people
in state and federal prisons whose most serious offense was a marijuana
charge. It costs around $25,000 per year to keep a prisoner behind
bars. That makes for a total of at least one billion dollars blown
incarcerating potheads, every single year. And that number doesn't even
include county jails, where the vast majority of marijuana offenders do
their time. The Drug Policy Alliance estimates the total cost of
enforcing marijuana laws at well over $10 billion.
In short: We're throwing away billions of dollars, countless hours of
police and court officials' time and ruining millions of lives to
achieve - nothing. The University of Michigan's well-respected annual
"Monitoring the Future" survey of drug use finds that nearly every
twelfth-grader in America - about 85 per cent of them, to be precise -
says buds are easy to get. That figure has held basically steady since
the 1970s. And almost one in three of those teenagers have smoked up in
the past year, a number that also not much changed over the last 30
years. All told, the federal government reckons more than
smoked weed in the past year.
In other words, the massive crackdown on pot smokers hasn't done a
thing to stop millions of Americans from lighting up. The only thing it
has changed is their chances of winding up in jail.
Follow Vince Beiser on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vincelb