Up In Smoke: Marijuana Prohibition Costs Billions

AARON JAMES
Spare Change News

The night’s air was frigid. He had been at college only a week. Even if it were a two-year junior college, it was in some respects a defeat to be there in and of itself for the young boy. He had fought through many battles with depression and drug abuse during high school; the mere fact that he was enrolled at any educational institution could only be described as the miraculous will of God.

The young boy loved drinking and marijuana. Sure, an occasional night out with cocaine and do-nothing weekends with LSD were still a part of life, but only alcohol and smoking was daily. He had come leaps and bounds since his freshmen days in high school when anything and everything was tried daily. His drug of choice, ecstasy, had not been used in years. With his drug of choice conquered, he viewed his battle with drugs over. His addiction was under control.

The college was a dry campus, in that no alcohol was allowed in the dorms regardless of age. He was only 19 at the time. A classmate of his got a hold of a fake ID. It is college, after all, and drinking goes with the territory. With four other newly found friends the young boy left campus that night to get alcohol and smoke some herbs. It was too dangerous to smoke on campus. A ride to the store seemed like a logically good time to smoke.

He was still on probation from an incident in high school a few months back. As common with most minor marijuana possession charges, the case was continued for six months. As they drove off campus that fateful evening he had just a month left until the high school charges would have been dropped.

He packed his pipe as the car headed to the liquor store. Pulling into the parking lot they all pointed out there was a state cop. They decided to play it cool. The young boy grasped tightly in his pocket his pipe packed with marijuana. He tried to think positive thoughts. Suddenly, a ride off campus to smoke illegal drugs and to buy alcohol illegally did not seem like the best idea. It was too late as the kid was in the store and the pot in his and only his pocket. No one else had anything illegal.

The new friend walked out of the store and placed liquor in the trunk — a lot of it! They pulled out. At first no one dare mention the fact that the state trooper followed them. Then it was mentioned. Then the sirens flew on.

The officer searched the kids and the car, and found the young boy’s pipe and marijuana — the officer was one citation closer to his quota for the month. He had the kids pour out the alcohol on the side of the road. Looking the young boy squarely in his still sober eyes the officer said, “I am going to let the alcohol offense go. However, we have a zero tolerance for drugs, and I will need to summon you to court for a class D possession charge.”

While he did not officially arrest the young boy, in terms of everything else it did not really matter. He was going back to court. He violated his continuance. A defiant young man instantly turned puzzled. Did he hear right? Did the officer just signal that alcohol was not a drug? Purchasing alcohol with a fake identification in Massachusetts is a felony charge, while minor possession is a misdemeanor. The greater charge was let go because it was not “drug” related. Can you make sense of that one?

Nothing was easy from there on out. The young boy had to go into Boston three times a week to be drug tested for the next year. He had to do 100 hours of community service and also meet with his probation officer once a month. And then of course the school work had to be juggled with lady justice’s obligations.

The young boy would go onto spend over $300 on transportation, several thousands on his lawyer, and of course probation and court fees. In total, not only did he lose focus on his classes, he now had to come up with more money just to stay in school and out of jail. And while there was an underlying issue with the drinking and other drug use, everything court-related had to do solely with marijuana. No charges for cocaine, DUI’s, or anything of that matter. Just marijuana.

That young boy was me, and I am proud to say that I graduated Dean College with my class on time. I did my community service. I took the drug tests three times a week and passed them (a mix between using masking products and actually quitting for periods of time during the year). I was on time for every meeting with my probation officer. When the year was up I still smoked marijuana and my drinking had grown to an uncontrollable level. No court ever led me to stop drinking. That choice had to be made and eventually was made, on my own time, with my own plan worked out with my own doctors.

This injustice has got to stop. Another young boy just like me is going through a similar situation today. Is this what we have to offer our fellow pot-smoking college students? Nothing but harassment from our so-called justice system? Is it no longer about grades? Is a 3.0 really meaningless in college if the student smoked marijuana while accomplishing this? On top of the injustice I am talking about, it comes with a pricetag for both the individual, the nation, and you. We are funding this injustice. Instead of prosecuting decent folks like myself and throwing us into the criminal justice system, we can start putting money back into our economy.

Over the last several weeks, Congress had been bickering back and forth about raising our debt ceiling. Republicans want to slash government programs. Democrats would like to close tax loop holes and create new income through tax hikes on the wealthy. Finally, they came to an agreement just before the August 4th deadline. As I watched the debate, I just shook my head. Not because I was disgusted with them, like most Americans are, for them not reaching a compromise sooner. I understand the political ideologies on both sides of the debate. I was disgusted because a legislative solution, already introduced, sits there in Congress and not even the authors of the legislation spoke out about this as a possible solution.

Rep. Barney Frank’s marijuana bill is dead on its track. As of August 2nd, The Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011 is still awaiting a hearing assignment. According to our great eyes and ears for the movement (NORML, National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws), those in Congress “seem content to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the will of the people on this issue, while simultaneously stonewalling the democratic process (http://www.norml.com/).”

Many analyses differ on how much revenue marijuana legalization could bring in for the federal government and since we have never legalized before, these are only theories. A Businessweek article read, “(Legalization of marijuana nationally) could raise $40 billion to $100 billion in new revenue. Not chump change. Government would simply be transferring revenue from organized crime to the public purse.”

I challenge that $40 billion number and argue $100 billion is a modest estimate. The point here is even this established journal published an article agreeing at least that my “modest” estimate could very well be possible. (http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2010/03/legalize_mariju.html)

Keep in mind that NORML estimates on top of not bringing in marijuana revenue, we instead choose to spend upwards of $10 billion a year on simply prosecuting marijuana crimes. This is our money, folks.

When you take out the military cuts in spending from the bill that finally passed Congress, they effectively cut from our national budget roughly $1 trillion over the next 10 years, which is exactly the amount of revenue (a hundred billion a year) I argue, we can expect from marijuana legalization. In essence, instead of making any cuts to key social services, we could have reformed our criminal justice system while at the time create more income for our nation. How come the pro-legalization crowd in Congress failed to raise this point? Why not stop arresting decent moral people, provide us a substance that despite best efforts will never go away, and create jobs and revenues without new taxes or cutting programs?

Sometimes the best solution only comes from acknowledgement of making a past mistake. Social Security was not a mistake even though Republicans at the time were sure it would lead to a national crisis. Here we are today when most Republicans are content bending over backwards to support the program. I implore Congress to stop being stubborn in regards to marijuana. Prohibition has been a failure as much as Social Security has been a success.

It is a new day, a new era in America. As a nation we are broke. We direly need the money currently in marijuana’s black market to be in our nation’s markets before we start cutting even more vital government programs. This is so important because of our national situation that you should be concerned even if you do not smoke because it could be your federal job, your next construction site, your next welfare check, your next whatever — that is cut. Why cut anything more when a legitimate source of income is available to tap into?

I think often lost in this debate is the fact that legalization will not only benefit marijuana users rather every single American, all of us. It will benefit you one way or another. It will create jobs, more national revenues, and keep folks like myself in and focused on school. All of this is critical for a stronger economy. We can do this as a nation. It is our country, my country, your country.

AARON JAMES is writer/vendor for Spare Change News.

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