How do the feds feel about the trend towards states legalizing marijuana in this country? “It scares us,” James Capra, the head of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operations frankly told congress earlier this year when he was asked about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. “Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed,” he went on, without attempting in the least to justify this remark. He went on to call state-based legalization “reckless and irresponsible,” a “bad experiment” that will “cost us in terms of social costs.”This sort of rhetoric from a federal official would have come as no surprise a couple of decades ago. But in the current political climate, it sounds simply outdated and alarmist. The sale and use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the Obama administration has indicated that it will not pursue prosecution of recreational users in states like Colorado and Washington.So why is Capra pushing so hard against the turning tide? The answer, of course, is money. And it’s not “social costs” he and his cronies are worried about. The “Drug War Industrial Complex” has a lot to lose if marijuana were to be federally legalized. There are 19 federal agencies getting billions in anti-drug funding today; $24.5 billion, to be exact, was appropriated to these agencies in 2013 alone. Adding state and local funding, the country spends about $50 billion a year on the drug war. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 1.5 million people in the U.S. were arrested on non-violent drug charges in 2012. 749,825 of those were related to marijuana, and of that number, 658,231 were for possession only. Marijuana offenders make up more than 10% of the state and federal incarcerated population, which means that taxpayers spend more than a billion dollars annually to incarcerate marijuana offenders.Recreational marijuana users arrested on mere possession are costing the system, but they are also paying a lot into it, for example, by way of court fees and fines, bail bondsmen, drug testing services, treatment facilities, and yes, attorneys like us. As we discussed in a recent post, law enforcement agencies also get a good chunk of their funding from seizing money in a citizens’ possession when they arrest them for drug possession, marijuana included, even without proving any connection to the drugs. Don’t believe it? Last year a client of ours was arrested in Austin for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana and all the cash on his person, totaling more than $2,000, was summarily seized. Even in forward-thinking Austin, citizens are arrested and charged for simple possession of marijuana every day. In a sampling of 200 booking photos from late January, 16 of the individuals—that’s 12.5%—were charged with possession of marijuana. Only one of those was charged with possession of an amount greater than 2 ounces. Even if the charge is ultimately dismissed, the citizen will inevitably have paid some money into the system somewhere along the line.
Some are optimistic that now that several states have decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana, the rest will soon follow, as well as the federal government. But although the tide is turning, it is simultaneously clear that there are still many, many reasons for government entities and others to continue to fight hard against it. Like Capra, they are scared, but the fear no longer has much, if anything, to do with Reefer Madness-esque fear of marijuana itself. Jim Gray, a former California judge, recalled meeting with a group of conservative politicians on Capitol Hill and being told, essentially, “most people in Washington realize the drug war is lost … but this is money.’” And that was in 1998.
Written by Jessica Bernstein and Approved by The Dude