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"Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could."

William F. Buckley, Jr.

"Why don't they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth."

Will Rogers

"Prohibition? HA! They tried that in the movies and it didn't work"

Homer Simpson

When will we ever learn?  Not sure on that, but I do know that the Overton Window is wide open on this at the moment and if we are to ever learn, now is the best chance we've got.  With state budgets at the breaking point under the current economic crisis, it makes less sense than ever to spend money investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating non-violent lawbreakers, whose only "crime" is trying to catch a buzz without alcohol.  Join me down there for actiony goodness.  

The first thing we need to do is call Representative Barney Frank and encourage him to revisit HR 5843, which would decriminalize possession of up to 3 ounces and the non-profit transfer of up to 1 ounce.  Then make the same call to Representative Ron Paul, as he was the bill's cosponsor.  Call your rep and tell them to pursue it as well.  

Having planted the seed (hahaha) at the federal level, now we move on to our respective home states.  Governors and state legislatures know first-hand how badly their budgets are hurting and are almost desperate for cost-saving measures.  Decriminalization is the single most painless way to cut expenses.

I know some will say that decriminalization is a half-measure and offers no substantive difference from prohibition.  But it cannot be denied that the activity allowed under decriminalization would reduce pot arrests.  Decriminalization also represents an opportunity to unequivocally make our case; it provides a ready-made petri dish to test the "theory" that relaxing marijuana laws will reduce expenses and inflict no discernable harm.  When potheads are left alone, unincarcerated, and it becomes evident to all that the world has, in fact, not imploded, we have made our case.  

This will pave the way for legalization/reclassification out of Schedule I.  I just really think the momentum has to start with the states, as with medical marijuana.  So let's do this!  I understand that a lot of governors will be resistant to the idea.  But we all know that money talks and desperate times call for desperate measures; I'm sure many pols will come around once they see the math$.  So I've poked around the internets for useful references for to convince the holdouts.  

Here, for example, is a handy widget detailing the laws state-by-state, so you know how far to push the envelope.  For example, here in Oregon, we have medical marijuana.  So when I called my pols, I said things like "We've allowed medical marijuana.  It just makes no sense to prosecute marijuana crimes, given the need for budget cuts...blahblahblah."  If your state has decriminalized, say, possession of up to one ounce, push them to adopt Frank's model of three ounces instead.  Etc.

A related point, and an excellent one at that, is that many states are facing cutbacks in their police and prison budgets.  Or plans for new prisons are being shelved, etc.  Now, I myself can only view not building more prisons as a good thing, but the overarching point is that prisons are overcrowded and police forces are being cut.  Decriminalization is a two-fer:  it would alleviate the overcrowding and relieve the workload burden of a reduced police force.  And then there are the related court costs, etc.

In addition, state and local governments also spend $16 billion per year enforcing drug laws. [8] In 1996, nearly 642,000 of the total 1.5 million drug arrests in America were for marijuana offenses. [9] This figure constituted 43 percent of all U.S. drug arrests and demonstrates that a significant portion of state and federal anti-drug funds are used exclusively to enforce marijuana laws.

...A second way to quantify the costs of marijuana prohibition is to extrapolate national estimates from a California study that found the state saved an average 95.8 million dollars in criminal justice costs annually following the adoption of marijuana decriminalization. [10]

According to the DOJ, roughly 15 million Americans indulged in pot as of 2006.  Per the report, the total number of State prisoners (all offenses) is 1.262 million.  If we were to incarcerate every user, i.e., only possession (not a federal crime), it would represent a 15-fold increase in the states' prison population.  We simply cannot afford to enforce marijuana laws and it isn't just DFHs arguing for decriminalization.  Introduce your Governor and state legislators to LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.  Wouldn't they know better than most how ineffectual the drug war is?  

That DOJ report also has a breakdown of weed usage by state (page 2) - tweak the numbers for your state specifically when contacting your pols.  E.g., Oregon's population is roughly 3.8 million, with a cited usage rate of over 7.5%.  So let's go with 8% usage; that is roughly 300,000 potential marijuana volations, an absurd and daunting amount of manhours and monetary resources devoted to victimless "crime."  Unfortunately, it's hard to pin down the numbers on a state-by-state basis re:  marijuana-related enforcement expenses, but investigating states' budgets might give some insight.  If you discover a useful resource or your own states' figures, please share!    

It's true, though, that given the current budget problems of just about all the states, we almost don't have to rely on specific, concise data; if an activity ceases to be illegal, there will be law enforcement savings.  The logic is irrefutable and inescapable.  It's such an intrinsic truth as to be a tautology. Fortunately, we have the model of federal alcohol prohibition:

the resources devoted to enforcement of Prohibition increased along with consumption. Heightened enforcement did not curtail consumption. The annual budget of the Bureau of Prohibition went from $4.4 million to $13.4 milion during the 1920s, while Coast Guard spending on Prohibition averaged over $13 million per year.[8] To those amounts should be added the expenditures of state and local governments.

Sure, telling them exactly how much could be saved would be useful, but we really don't need specific numbers:  if your state is spending money on marijuana enforcement, they would save that money under decriminalization, as sure as the sun will be setting in the west tonight.  Not even the mouth-breathingest troglodyte can deny it and with the situation as it is, no one is likely to dismiss any proposed savings.

Equally fortuitous, we have the example of Seattle's 2003 Initiatve 75, which made marijuana enforcement the lowest police priority.  In 2008, a review panel issued their findings on its impact:

II. There is no evidence of any adverse effect of the implementation of I-75, including specifically

   1. no evident increase in marijuana use among youth and young adults:

   2. no evident increase in crime; and

   3. no adverse impact on public health.

See?  Seattle didn't go to hell in a Prada handbag and neither will your state.  So let's do this!  Here is the handy-dandy, just the facts ma'am:

Call Barney Frank and other relevant congresscritters (see above)

Call your Governor and state legislature leadership.

If you're feeling really inspired/wacky, call your city government too.

Tell everyone to look to Seattle's deprioritization example.  Or the medical marijuana states.

Cite the benefit trifecta of prison overcrowding relief, reduced law enforcement and court costs, and a smaller case load for an undermanned police force.

Reiterate, over and over, your state's budgetary woes and how enforcing marijuana laws is just not a prudent use of scarce funding.

Emphasize monetary savings as much as possible, whether through repetition or having actually managed to find solid numbers per state.

Write LTEs


So let's take this viral - rec it, blog it, email it far and wide, DIGG it, etc, but most of all DO IT.  Call your state pols and urge them to decriminalize marijuana.  Tell them they are obligated to explore every possible means of cost savings and they are further obligated to cut spending in the most effective manner possible to maximize resources.  We are in an unprecedented situation and tinkering around the edges of things simply won't do.  

As my mom always says playing spades, "come high or stay home."  As inadvertently apropos as that is to this diary, it really just means "if you're not serious, don't bother."  If you really want to take that trick, you better throw your ace.  And if we really want to achieve fiscal sanity, we've got to be equally audacious.

And the time is NOW!


Originally posted to Cedwyn on Wed Mar 04, 2009 at 07:28 AM PST.

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