Pubdate: Wed, 20 Feb 2002
Source: Mountain Xpress (NC)
Copyright: 2002 Mountain Xpress
Author: Michael Morgan
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Our state and nation are both in a major budget crunch. Buncombe County
District Attorney Ron Moore recently expressed his concern in a Jan. 29
Asheville Citizen-Times article ... [saying] that the prisons are too full
to hold any more people, that early release of some offenders is imminent
... and that he is concerned about letting hardened criminals go free ...
just because the state has insufficient funds to build and staff more

I agree, in part, with D.A. Moore. There are dangerous, evil people in
prison that I do not want released back into society under any
circumstances. There are also a great many nonviolent people in prison for
nonviolent offenses (such as drug possession or prostitution, etc.) that do
not deserve to be there. 

According to reports from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics office, one
in every 37 adults in the United States is either in prison or on some form
of probation or parole. Almost everyone knows someone who has been in jail.
And certainly, I believe, almost every adult has either smoked pot or knows
someone who does. And furthermore, I'll bet you don't consider that person
who smokes pot to be a criminal who deserves to go to prison. Yet 65-percent
of the people in the federal prison system are there for a drug-related
charge. It costs $35,000 a year to keep a prisoner in a minimum-security
facility, more as the security levels increase. There are now over 2 million
people incarcerated in the United States. That's at least $70 billion per
year spent on operating our prisons.

That's not counting overseas drug intervention efforts that cause civil wars
in those countries. ... That's not counting the costs for Coast Guard and
Border Patrol interdiction efforts. That's not counting the DEA, FBI, state
and local law enforcement investigation and arrest costs. That's not
counting the prosecution and judicial costs - courthouses, judges and
courtroom support staff, probation and parole costs, etc. ...

That's just the costs to the taxpayer. Think of the financial burdens on the
families of the drug-law offenders. Parents and grandparents ... often spend
their life's savings and even borrow money to pay legal fees. ... If a
dependent family is left behind when a parent is locked up, the remaining
family members [often] end up on welfare, costing more taxpayer dollars.
Often, the remaining parent's time is so stretched between trying to earn an
income and trying to have a personal life that the children grow up
unsupervised and risk becoming a new crop of juvenile delinquents ... who
also wind up in the prison system.

The war on drugs is vicious, unending and pointless. 

If we released the drug offenders (about half the prison population), we'd
save $35 billion a year. How many schools and rehab centers can we build,
and how many teachers and counselors can we hire, for $35 billion per year?
That's the real solution to the drug problem. 

The solution to the prison overcrowding/budget problem is also quite simple.
Quit prosecuting drug cases! We simply can't afford to waste our resources
on a drug policy that is plainly ineffective and grossly unfair. The
prosecution's primary objection is: "We can't selectively enforce the law."
Bull! It happens every day in every courtroom in the country in every case
involving a plea bargain. ...

The marijuana growing season will soon be upon us. I urge everyone to get
out and practice civil disobedience in protest of the drug laws. Plant
marijuana seeds everywhere, especially in public places so that innocent
landowners don't get their land confiscated. There aren't enough police to
be everywhere at once. A great many of the plants will survive to harvest.

Now seems to be the ideal time and situation in which to implement this type
of action. The court system is already stretched to the breaking point.
There's no budget to hire more court employees. The court system is
completely dependent upon plea bargaining to streamline the process and
expedite cases. They absolutely cannot handle a huge flood of pot-growing
cases who all plead not guilty and demand a time-and-resource-consuming
trial by a jury of their peers, who will be unlikely to find the defendant
guilty. Even if convicted, it's very unlikely that an active sentence would
be imposed because the prisons are over capacity already. ...

Another objection I hear to the decriminalization of any drug is: "If drugs
were readily available to the general public, more people would become
addicts." BULL! Availability of a drug has nothing to do with its
consumption. Every convenience and grocery store sells beer, wine and
cigarettes, but not everybody is an alcoholic or tobacco smoker. ... Even
children in grade schools can get hard drugs like cocaine easier than they
can get cigarettes and beer, because drug interdiction efforts are hopeless
and there are no controls on who sells the stuff. Historically, prohibition
has done nothing but make outlaws and mobsters richer. ...

The illegality of drugs actually fuels the whole problem. The illegality
causes the high prices. The high prices lead to the crime and violence. You
need to understand the drug marketing hierarchy. Simply put, older people
sell downward to younger people. The oldest group deals in the massive
quantities. They sell truckloads to the next youngest group, who sell pounds
to the next lower age group, who sell ounces to high-school kids, who sell
nickel and dime bags to the grade-school kids. High school kids learn
quickly that they can make more money in one afternoon after school selling
bags to their friends than they can make by working all week in McDonald's
or some factory. As they grow older, it's in their financial best interest
to develop a market in the younger generation. It's a self-perpetuating,
self-feeding system and will continue to operate so long as the profit is
there to be made. 

For people who have no desire to grow or consume pot, but who agree with the
futility of the drug war, I urge you to sit on juries and find any drug
offender not guilty. It's called "jury nullification." ...

If we e-mail and write enough letters (feel free to enclose this letter) to
our elected officials instructing them not to budget any money for any type
of marijuana prosecutions, perhaps we can influence the state-budgeting

Michael Morgan, candidate for state House of Representatives

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