A Billion Dollars a Year for Pot?

  A Billion Dollars a Year for Pot?

Posted by CN Staff on October 18, 2006 at 06:13:50 PT
By Paul Armentano 
Source: Washington Examiner  

Washington, DC -- American taxpayers are now spending more than a billion dollars per year to incarcerate its citizens for pot. That’s according to statistics released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.According to the new BJS report, “Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004,” 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses.
Combining these percentages with separate U.S. Department of Justice statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners (BJS October 2005 Bulletin: “Prisoners in 2004” — NCJ 210677) suggests that there are now about 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates behind bars for marijuana offenses. (The report failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county jails for pot-related offenses.)Multiplying these totals by U.S. DOJ prison expenditure data (BJS June 2004 Bulletin: “State Prison Expenditures, 2001” — NCJ 202949) reveals that taxpayers are spending more than $1 billion annually to imprison pot offenders. The new report is noteworthy because it undermines the common claim from law enforcement officers and bureaucrats, specifically White House drug czar John Walters, that few, if any, Americans are incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. In reality, nearly 1 out of 8 U.S. drug prisoners are locked up for pot.Of course, several hundred thousand more Americans are arrested each year for violating marijuana laws, costing taxpayers another $8 billion dollars annually in criminal justice costs. According to the most recent figures available from the FBI, police arrested an estimated 786,545 people on marijuana charges in 2005 — more than twice the number of Americans arrested just 12 years ago. Among those arrested, about 88 percent — some 696,074 Americans — were charged with possession only. The remaining 90,471 individuals were charged with “sale/manufacture,” a category that includes all cultivation offenses, even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.These totals are the highest ever recorded by the FBI, and make up 42.6 percent of all drug arrests in the United States. Nevertheless, self-reported pot use by adults, as well as the ready availability of marijuana on the black market, remains virtually unchanged.Marijuana isn’t a harmless substance, and those who argue for a change in the drug’s legal status do not claim it to be. However, pot’s relative risks to the user and society are arguably fewer than those of alcohol and tobacco, and they do not warrant the expenses associated with targeting, arresting and prosecuting hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. According to federal statistics, about 94 million Americans — that’s 40 percent of the U.S. population age 12 or older — self-identify as having used cannabis at some point in their lives, and relatively few acknowledge having suffered significant deleterious health effects due to their use. America’s public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it. It makes no sense to continue to treat nearly half of all Americans as criminals.Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for NORML and the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC. Source: Washington Examiner (DC) Author: Paul ArmentanoPublished: October 18, 2006Copyright: 2006 Washington ExaminerContact: threads dcexaminer.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives

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Comment #17 posted by whig on October 19, 2006 at 11:46:32 PT
Hope #16
Thank you Hope, I agree.
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Comment #16 posted by Hope on October 19, 2006 at 08:10:43 PT
Well....what an insult!
You VOLUNTEER your time to help the Library....and they respond..."You must pee in this cup for me and give it back to me for see if you are consuming something we don't allow you to consume."Poppycock! Respect for a man's or woman's honor and word and dignity seem to be worth so little these days.Kudo's to the volunteers for resisting fascism.You don't have to be a pot smoker to know that drug testing is outrageous and an insult to anyone's integrity...and dignity...user or not.Corporations, with government help, have forced this upon the people. So many people can't work and earn a living if they don't submit to this invasion....but a volunteer doesn't HAVE to do it to continue to make a living. "Take that cup and shove it!"Way to go, Library Volunteers for a Free America.
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Comment #15 posted by FoM on October 18, 2006 at 20:44:07 PT
Thank you. I will watch it tomorrow. I really like him. 
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Comment #14 posted by ekim on October 18, 2006 at 20:39:18 PT
good going--Paul Armentano
FoM Sen Obama will be on Larry King on Thurs niteinstead of spending a billion on fighting Cannabis howabout 
regulating its use and allow the country to grow in both jobs and fighting globalwarming for the futurePaul if just one of these big shot Dem lawmakers would stand up and fight for the people maybe just maybe the voters would stand up for the lawmaker
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Comment #13 posted by whig on October 18, 2006 at 18:41:18 PT
Storm Crow
If we lose, the libraries are gone, the museums are gone, all culture will die. The mass-produced Kentucky Fried world will be all that is left but for soft-porn culture.Of course, we aren't going to lose.
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Comment #12 posted by Storm Crow on October 18, 2006 at 18:33:03 PT
On Comment #9- just some thoughs...
Could it be that pot smokers are the only ones who care about reading, or the public having access to books? Or is it that non-using people just don't care enough to volunteer at libraries? And with the internet so realily available, are libraries still relevant? I think they are a dying institution and I will miss them when they are gone. The church-like hush, the smell of the books and floor polish, the stick-thin, elderly librarian... all will fade away into an overmedia'ed, under-educated, brave new world. 
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Comment #11 posted by whig on October 18, 2006 at 16:52:54 PT
On potential harms
There is a problem of diagnosis when a correlation exists, because the causality may be confused. If A and B are both observed to exist in parallel to one another, you could guess that A causes B, or that B causes A. Perhaps A and B cause one another, or perhaps they are both caused by a hidden variable C.
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Comment #10 posted by whig on October 18, 2006 at 16:50:29 PT
Paul Armentano
I just have to say that none of the risks you listed as "potential" are in fact actual, they are in other words theorized but unproven harms. That should be made more clear.
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Comment #9 posted by ChristenMitchell on October 18, 2006 at 16:33:38 PT:
Library Volunteers Just Say No To Drug Testing
Levy County’s public libraries are struggling to get books checked out or reshelved because retirees who usually handle many of those chores have balked at a requirement that they “pee in a cup” as part of a mandatory drug test for all county volunteers.…The situation has gotten to the point where the pool of 55 volunteers has dwindled to two and the number of hours worked by volunteers in the county’s five libraries plunged from 330 in September 2005 to 11 this September, according to county library records. None of the former volunteers contacted by The Sun wanted to be publicly identified in a story about drug-testing.–Gainesville SunOne of the best Anti-Prohibitionist Blogs Check it daily. 
Thanks, Jeff
Pete Gautier's
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Comment #8 posted by mayan on October 18, 2006 at 15:43:21 PT
Down The Tubes
American taxpayers are now spending more than a billion dollars per year to incarcerate its citizens for pot.We can't afford to build or maintain schools,infrastructure,etc. but we can sure afford to build prisons and the police state. How sickening. 
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Comment #7 posted by Toker00 on October 18, 2006 at 15:02:30 PT
Or, Paul...
Please try each time you use the "marijuana isn't a harmless substance," bit, to include: "but it is much less harmful than many, many other substances." Or something. Just trying to help.My opinion is, cannabis itself is not only harmless, it is very beneficial. Smoking it is the only harm I see. Vaporizing would be even LESS HARMFUL. When admitting anything in a debate, try to do it the LEAST HARMFUL way. Wage Peace on war. END CANNABIS PROHIBITION NOW!
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Comment #6 posted by FoM on October 18, 2006 at 13:59:11 PT
I Like This
"Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself." -- President Jimmy Carter,Message to Congress. August 2, 1977
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Comment #5 posted by paul armentano on October 18, 2006 at 13:51:30 PT
Max Flowers
Valid question. "Harmlessness" is not -- nor should it be -- the standard threshold for deciding a substance's legality. As you note, most substances -- including most legal one's -- carry some relative risks, particularly when abused. Rather than pidgeon-holing ourselves by arguing that marijuana is "harmless," an unrealistic standard, I believe that it is better to acknowledge some of cannabis' potential harms -- when identified -- and respond that these relative harms are far less than those posed by most legal drugs (a realistic standard). Regarding your specific question ("name the harm"), some include: elevated risk of accident during periods of acute intoxication; negative impact on psychomotor skills under acute intoxication; potential risk of schizophrenia/mental illness in those genetically susceptible to the disease; potential (temporary) negative impact on the cardiovascular system in those with pre-existing cerebrovascular diseases, etc. Of course, none of the potential harms are particularly disconcerting relative to the potential harms posed by the use of many other substances, and none of these risks are, IMO, a valid argument for maintaining cannabis prohibition.
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Comment #4 posted by whig on October 18, 2006 at 12:44:06 PT
Max Flowers
The primary harm associated with cannabis is the risk of arrest, of course.
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Comment #3 posted by Max Flowers on October 18, 2006 at 09:57:58 PT
Name the harm
As a Cnews regular, I value your input, Paul, but when you say "marijuana isn't a harmless substance," I say, if not, "name the harm." Is it a tiny bit of bronchitis? Bad breath? How do you define harmless? The way I define it---harmful being synonymous with toxic---cannabis is harmless.Water is not a harmless substance either, if you want to split hairs. It can kill you if you drink a gallon in three minutes, or drown in it. And I suppose cannabis is not harmless if a palette load of 1000 lbs falls on you. My point is just that when you say that cannabis is "not harmless," you give ammunition to our opponents, and hurt our cause even at the same time that you advocate for the freedom to use it. If you're going to concede to them this huge point (which I disagree with, because our opponents will take that and run with it and claim that the "harm" they say it causes runs the gamut from mental illness to "gateway function" to hormonal chaos), then you should explain what you mean by "harm."
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on October 18, 2006 at 07:15:07 PT

Thank you. I will try to fix it.
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Comment #1 posted by paul armentano on October 18, 2006 at 07:10:15 PT

Not the SF Examiner
My op/ed actually appears in today's Washington DC Examiner -- 
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