Fiscal Conservatives and The War on Drugs

Jacob Sullum reports:

John Ray Wilson, the New Jersey man who was convicted in December of growing marijuana that he used to treat his multiple sclerosis, was sentenced on March 19 to five years in state prison. Wilson was not permitted to present a medical defense, because at the time of his trial New Jersey did not permit marijuana use for any reason. After he was convicted, New Jersey became the 14th state to allow the medical use of marijuana, although the new law does not allow patients to grow their own cannabis, instead requiring them to obtain it from state-licensed dispensaries. Gov. Jon Corzine, who signed the medical marijuana law, said he could not consider clemency for Wilson until after the trial. He has since been succeeded by Republican Chris Christie.

This case is upsetting for all sorts of reasons, and I see why legalization advocates are using it as an example of the morally suspect outcome in some drug cases, but I’d like to highlight another angle: based on the estimates I’ve found, it will cost almost $200,000 to incarcerate this man for five years in the New Jersey penal system.

Shouldn’t this be an issue for fiscal conservatives? Factoring in police and court costs, it’s going to require at least a quarter of a million dollars by the time New Jersey is done with Mr. Wilson. Is there anyone who will argue that this is a good use of taxpayer funds? In the effort to end the War on Drugs, I think the fiscal angle is powerful and insufficiently exploited. If social liberals and libertarians can win fiscal conservatives to their side, it may be a tipping point.

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12 Responses to “Fiscal Conservatives and The War on Drugs”

  1. Fiscal conservatives and the war on drugs « Later On Says:

    […] in Daily life, Drug laws, Government at 2:36 pm by LeisureGuy Conor Friedersdorf has a comment on this story I blogged earlier: This case is upsetting for all sorts of reasons, and […]

  2. billharris Says:

    There are millions and millions of potheads out there. Every one is an unfunded liability under current law. Just think of the fiscal impact if they all turned themselves in.

  3. malcolmkyle Says:

    Prohibition is a sickening horror and the ocean of incompetence, corruption and human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

    Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

    Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.

    By its very nature prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model – the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

    Many of us have now finally wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation, which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco –two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

    There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection, then maybe you’re using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody ‘halfway bright’ and who’s not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding, that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem; it is our refusal to allow legal businesses to meet that demand.

    No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, diminution of rights and liberties, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer; only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

    If you still support the kool aid mass suicide cult of prohibition, and erroneously believe that you can win a war without logic and practical solutions, then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

    “A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”
    Abraham Lincoln

    The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation while turning even our schools and prisons into black markets for drugs. Regulation would mean the opposite!

  4. craig Says:

    Conor

    Your numbers are woefully inadequate. I am not familiar with this case, but I am assuming that Wilson was a working member of society. In order to calculate the fiscal cost of prohibition, you must also factor in the tax money lost by the state because Wilson is now in jail not paying taxes. Then you must factor in an entire lifetime of decreased earnings (less taxes paid) because good jobs dont go to people who spent 5 years in prison. The actual cost is far higher than the quarter of a million you cited.

  5. andylevinson Says:

    RE:it will cost almost $200,000 to incarcerate this man for five years in the New Jersey penal system.

    It wouldn’t cost that much if the liberal run public employee unions didn’t run the prisons……these public employee unions drive up the cost of everything

    • beelzebud Says:

      And here is your answer on where fiscal conservatives are on the war on drugs. It’s yet another chance to take a shot at unions, liberals, and other assorted boogymen. See if the liberal union members would just take massive pay cuts, then we’d be able to jail ALL the marijuana users.

      Modern conservatives don’t reside in reality. They’re too busy fighting those liberal boogymen that belong to things like labor unions, to care about a serious issue such as the monumental waste that is the war on drugs.

      • pyite Says:

        Yes, the most powerful union in the country is the prison guards because nobody in either party will stand up against them. Obviously they love the revenue they get from incarcerating so many non violent prisoners.

    • rhayader Says:

      OK, forget New Jersey and its durn libruls; find us one state in the country that would come even close to executing a sentence like this in a financially reasonable manner. I defy you to find a single example that would make his arrest, trial, and imprisonment — for WEED, mind you — financially justifiable.

  6. jake brodsky Says:

    Frankly, even though I’m conservative, I tend to agree that if we taxed sales accordingly, Marijuana would be no worse than tobacco or alcohol.

    I’m not saying this stuff is benign any more than the sale of alcohol is benign. But, yes, the costs of fighting this war have always been ridiculous.

    That said, I still think there is a place for anti-drug efforts. Some drugs, such as crack or ecstasy, can really hurt someone over a relatively short period of time. We need to enforce laws against those who deal this stuff because the damage it does to humanity is simply too great.

  7. pyite Says:

    I would suggest that anyone who believes in freedom (e.g. 2nd amendment gun nuts) or fiscal responsibility would be open to reforming the Drug War.

    However, as a Republican congressional staffer friend of mine explained, there is currently no political upside whatsoever to Washington politicians supporting a change like this. Until they start losing elections over it (or at least having to defend their position during campaigns), change will be slow in coming.

    This may be one of the biggest casualties of 9/11 – before then there were actual drug war debates on Washington shows like Meet the Press.

  8. 4-5-2010 The Day in Review | F i a t Lux Says:

    […] Friedersdorf flags a case that supports a fiscally conservative argument for legalizing […]

  9. Taxes And Drugs | Free Market Mojo Says:

    […] offers some free advice: In the effort to end the War on Drugs, I think the fiscal angle is powerful and insufficiently […]

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