By "Radical" Russ Belville
Following up on “The David Evans Inequality”, I wanted to puncture another talking point of the prohibitionist. This is the claim that we really don’t lock up anybody for marijuana in prison – it’s as rare as finding a unicorn, as Drug Czar Walters once said.
This one I’ve christened “The George Skelton Diversion” in honor of the Los Angeles Times writer who recently penned this:
Our prisons aren’t exactly bulging with people who were sent there for growing or selling grass, let alone ingesting it. Fewer than 1% of the inmates have been sentenced for marijuana or hashish crimes of any sort, according to state prison data.
They total 1,325 out of 164,156. If you do the math — each prisoner costing nearly $50,000 a year — it isn’t chump change: around $66 million. But it’s hardly noticeable in a $10-billion prison budget.
So the reader is left to believe that we only spend $66 million enforcing marijuana prohibition. Why, that’s a 0.6% drop in the prison spending bucket!
As usual, the prohibitionist ignores the true cost to society and the marijuana consumer – the arrest itself.
Every one of California’s pot arrests require police time. Police labs have to test baggies of weed while rape kits sit on shelves. California pays unemployment and other benefits to workers fired only for failing a pee test. Cops have to follow up on grow tips and rip up gardens. People have to replace doors and belongings after cops destroy them in a raid. Court stenographers have to be paid to transcribe trials whether defendants are convicted or acquitted. People lose upward mobility when a marijuana conviction impedes their job ladder or education plan.
Then there are the people in prison for weed who don’t show up in the “there for weed” statistics. If you robbed a gas station two decades ago, served your time, and are on probation when you’re caught for a joint, you can go back to prison for your robbery and it doesn’t show up as a “busted for weed” imprisonment. If you’ve had two convictions in California your joint can be your “third strike” that puts you away. If you kept your different strains in different bags, you can go to prison for distribution, not possession. There are conspiracy charges where you can be imprisoned even if no weed was found and you had no major role in the trafficking of cannabis.
Besides, no matter how few people are in prison and how little it may cost, is it right? I say one man in a cage and a dollar to house him for the “crime” of growing and using a plant is still too much.