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America goes to Pot and Prisons

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America can no longer keep the course on the war on drugs. It has been a waste of money while wasting too many lives. It costs three times as much to fight drugs as a criminal problem as the actual cost of damage done by illegal drugs and yet the level of use remains the same. Despite an astronomical increase in prisoners serving harsh sentences for drug offenses since the early 80s, American domestic marijuana production has increased tenfold during the same time frame so that pot is now America's biggest agricultural product with revenues of around $35 tax-free billion dollars annually.

So concluded Jon Gettman, a researcher and former head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in a report that found California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Washington each produce more than a billion dollars worth of pot a year. California alone produces almost $14 billion.

Gettman used government estimates that growers produce more than 10,000 metric tons of marijuana annually. Multiply 10,000 metric tones by the average price per pound of $1,606 and that equates to $35.8 billion. That figure does not include the amount Americans spend on imported reefer.

The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, estimates that total American drug use is $200 billion annually. Divide that by an estimated 300 million Americans and you get the average American - man, woman, child and all points in between - spending an average of $666.66 each on illegal drugs. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that in 2003 worldwide retails sales were $322 billion. The UN estimated that 44% of that market was mostly in the United States. In other words, Americans, who account for 5 percent of the world's population, account for roughly 44% of the world's money spent on illegal drugs. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, worldwide illegal drug revenue is greater than the Gross Domestic Product of 163 countries, or 88% of the countries in the world.

Revenue generated from American grown marijuana is more than that of corn which averages annually around $23 billion; corn $17.6 billion; soybeans $12 billion; vegetables $11 billion, and $7 billion of wheat. Worldwide, illegal drugs account for 14% of agricultural exports.

If American marijuana growers were a single business entity, it would rank number 72 on the Wikipedia list of the top 100 businesses in terms of revenues. American pot growers don't come close to number one, ExxonMobil, with its revenues of $370.6 billion. Yet pot farmers can take pride that their revenues in America exceed worldwide that of Pepsi at $32 billion and Coca-Cola at $23 billion.

There has been a 10-fold increase in American pot production since 1981 even though the incarceration rate has also rocketed until now there are more people in federal prison for pot than for violence. Approximately one out of every six federal inmates is in prison on pot related charges.
While the United States has only 5 percent of the world's population, it has 25 percent of the world's prison population. The United States puts more people in prison than western Europe puts in prison on all offenses. America has more people in prison than China or Russia, and that America's incarceration rate of 737 people per 100,000 is the highest in the world.

In 2005, American authorities arrested 786,545 people on pot charges. According to a study in the Harm Reduction Journal, 88% of the approximate 700,000 arrests for marijuana were for possession in 2002. Since 1990, there has been an 82% increase in arrests on marijuana charges with
"virtually all of that increase . . . in possession offenses." However, the study found that only one in 18 of such arrests resulted in a felony conviction, which meant that roughly $4 billion per year was being spent alone on busting people for minor pot violations. One estimate is that the state and local costs per arrest for pot violations average each $10,400.

Yet, American authorities keep busting away despite the substantial evidence that growing arrest rates and harsh sentences do nothing to lower the use or production of marijuana. In fifteen states a nonviolent marijuana offense can result in a life sentence. A single pot plant in Montana can draw a life sentence for a first offense. That's nothing compared to the feds who can execute a first time offender for growing or having enough marijuana plants (60,000).

In 2004 the Office of National Drug Control Policy issued a report entitled "The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in the United States." That report had estimates for the costs of fighting drugs versus the negative monetary impact of drug use as measured by premature death, health care, productivity, institutionalization, health care, and property damage. Nearly 70% of the actual monetary costs of drug use were lost productivity and wages from incarceration, being sick, turning to crime and dying.

What the study found was that over a ten-year period from 1992 to 2002 that it cost approximately three times as much money to wage a war on drugs as the actual monetary negative costs of drug use. For example, in 2002 it cost an estimated $148.62 billion to fight drugs while the negative economic impact was estimated to have only been $44.73 billion. That's more than $100 billion difference. For the ten-year period study, there was more than a trillion dollars difference between the cost of war on drugs and the actual monetary damage done by illegal drugs in America. Or, given the current estimate of the American deficit at a tad more than $ eight and a half trillion, wasted money on the war on drugs accounts for approximately 11-12% of the record deficit.

On the other hand, economic professor Jeffrey A. Miron estimated that legalizing and taxing pot like any other product would yield $2.4 billion annually. Tax pot like booze or cigarettes and that the tax revenue would be $6.2 billion annually. Of course, pot advocates could argue that the medical research on marijuana show it to be nowhere as medically harmful as either alcohol or tobacco.

Right now, the United States faces prison overcrowding, largely due to proliferation of people for drug offenses. Other prisoners, including violent offenders, are being paroled early or having their sentences shortened to make room for drug users and dealers. Peoples lives are being ruined, the cost is out of hand, and people are spending more than ever on drugs. Meanwhile, demagogic politicians, the religious right and big drug dealers all agree on one thing: keep the course.

 

B. 1952, GA, USA. D. To Be Determined. Beloved husband, father, grandfather, lover, confidant and friend of many from bikers to Zen masters; American writer and speaker, known for his criticism of Mammon's unholy trinity of big business, big (more...)
 
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