Legalization Without Indemnification Is Totally Irresponsible
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By Clifford Thornton, Efficacy
The recent push to decriminalize and legalize drugs, especially marijuana, has picked up steam all over the world. These drug prohibition reform efforts, while motivated by the massive harms caused by prohibition, are incomplete remedies if limited to criminal justice reform. A major aspect of prohibition's harm is economic, and among the remedies which reform needs to include is financial relief for prohibition's victims. Fortunately, reform offers an opportunity for funding efforts to relieve the harm of prohibition, without raising taxes.
Prohibition reform is gaining mainstream recognition with growing visibility and momentum. California Governor Schwarzenegger said legalization has to be put on the table. Rhode Island has created a marijuana prohibition commission that within months will formally address outright legalization. Portugal has decriminalized small amounts of formerly illegal drugs, along with Mexico and Argentina. Many countries in the European Union now have such policies on the table for consideration.
But in the United States the drug reform movement, if one can call it that, is sharply focused on marijuana and not on drug prohibition as a whole. Unfortunately this focus ignores three other longstanding and devastating social issues. First, drug war policies have needlessly taken potential taxpayers out of the community and spent tax money to keep them in prison. Second, twenty million children have been orphaned because one or both parents have been sent to prison on drug related charges. Third, in that process of economic and family disintegration, public and higher education have been dramatically shortchanged.
As a result, billions of dollars that could have funded education and health care, instead have been consumed by law enforcement for punishment that has worsened community safety and health. We have taken countless young people out of our community on drug charges and wonder why they and their contemporaries no longer have faith in our criminal justice system. Our children are not stupid; they see two forms of justice, one for the well-connected, and one for the poor. Society will pay for this perception of injustice for decades to come.
Beyond the human tragedies, reform must not forget the impact of the Drug Prohibition War on local economies. The police chiefs of Camden, Newark, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles have said that parts of their cities would collapse financially without the illegal drug trade. It's one thing to knock someone on the head for money to buy drugs, but it's a different thing to do it to buy bread. Stopping drug arrests and imprisonment is only a step in the right direction. If drugs are legalized, the illegal drug economy would need to be replaced.
Using Connecticut as an example we can see the potential for using reform to generate financial relief for prohibition's victims. Studies show the Nutmeg State has three and half million residents with over a six hundred million dollar prison budget. The prison population, some 17,000, with seventy percent serving time for drug related charges, presents a goldmine of economic opportunity. We must also remember that in the late eighties to early nineties Connecticut spent a billion dollars to build prisons, with luck never to be repeated.
When illegal drugs are one day legalized, medicalized and decriminalized, that reform will present the state a windfall of around four hundred million dollars per year. All of following could be accomplished with the stroke of a pen. Reform's savings from reducing the incidence and cost of prison could mean a million dollar health policy for every man, woman and child. Reform savings could mean a hundred million dollars toward free tuition and fees for everyone who wishes to go to college. Reform could free up a hundred million dollars toward the funding of our public school system with one teacher and assistant per ten pupils grades K-8. Reform could divert from the criminal justice's response to drug use a hundred million dollars toward providing those after school programs which are so direly needed, filled with athletics, academic and social programs that are missing today.
There would also be the 9 to 10 million dollars in new tax revenue from the legalization of marijuana. This revenue could be used for all sorts of treatment programs for drug abusers (whose use impairs their quality of life) that want and need it, plus what cities and towns would save and reallocate from their police budgets. Think about this new industry: What if cannabis cigarettes were made in the community, as opposed to RJ Reynolds' which produces that toxic tobacco product. And often forgotten is that the legalization of industrial hemp could be a real prize here in terms of new products and jobs. Hemp has the potential to become a multi-billion dollar industry in Connecticut alone. And public safety employees should not worry about reform's threat to their economic interests: Very few in the criminal justice system would have to lose their jobs. What I am talking about is not only a shift in monies but a reassignment of personnel.
The War On Drugs is America's longest conflict, and those who are primarily affected by it need to be compensated for an ill-advised, mindless, megalomaniacal, policy. After all, there was the Marshall plan after WWII.
There will be a economic report in the coming year that will highlight the money spent by cities to fight this unwinnable war on drugs in Connecticut. This report will blow you away.
Tags: Health Care/Drugs
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