Drug Law

For Law Enforcement, Marijuana is "Where the Money Is"

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Mike Meno

People often wonder why local law enforcement agencies will spend so many resources cracking down on marijuana. As this weekend’s superbly reported front-page piece in The Wall Street Journal explains, it really all comes down to money.

IGO, Calif.—Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, his budget under pressure in a weak economy, has laid off staff, reduced patrols and even released jail inmates. But there’s one mission on which he’s spending more than in recent years: pot busts.

The reason is simple: If he steps up his pursuit of marijuana growers, his department is eligible for roughly half a million dollars a year in federal anti-drug funding, helping save some jobs. The majority of the funding would have to be used to fight pot. Marijuana may not be the county’s most pressing crime problem, the sheriff says, but “it’s where the money is.”

To make sure his office gets the federal funds, Sheriff Bosenko since last year has spent about $340,000 of his department’s shrinking resources, more than in past years, on a team that tramps through the woods looking for pot farms.

As we’ve stated many times before, marijuana eradication programs are not only horribly ineffective at reducing the supply of marijuana, but even worse, they force law enforcement to commit massive amounts of resources and manpower to marijuana offenses at the expense of much more serious crimes. That’s why it’s so insane for the federal government to encourage and reward this type of misallocation. As the Journal article points out, California police departments are expected to lose $100 million in state funding this year, presumably leading even more departments to take up the eradication cause.

But if officials want to end illegal grows and see more money in state coffers at the same time, they need stop the madness and tax and regulate marijuana the same way we do alcohol, allowing the state to reap untold millions, possibly billions in new tax revenue while providing law enforcement with sufficient funding and sensible priorities that will allow them to focus on more serious crimes.

Now why can’t the federal government offer incentives with those kinds of results?