Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2004
Source: News & Advance, The (VA)
Copyright: 2004 Media General
Author: Raymond Wilkerson
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Two articles in the Jan. 18 edition of The News & Advance caught my eye. One
had to do with the cost of maintaining each inmate in Fairfax County Jail.
Called "room and board," that expense cost Fairfax County taxpayers $130 a
day. This equates to $3,900 for a 30-day month, or perilously close to
$50,000 per year. I am curious about how many two-parent families get by on
half that amount. I also am wondering how many of those inmates are serving
time because of marijuana or other drugs.

On the same page was a related article, which precipitated this letter. It
seems that a half-ton of marijuana was seized in an Abington motel room.
Already packaged for sale, its street value was listed at $3 million.
According to my calculations, this equates to $3,000 per pound, or $187.50
per ounce. Looks to me as though we are faced with the same situation, which
was annulled by the 21st Amendment and was ratified in December 1933. That
legislative bit did away with the 18th Amendment which had become law in
1919, prohibited the sale of alcohol (in theory), and set the stage for a
lawlessness that mocked that amendment in much the same manner of our
current drug policy is mocked.

We're losing the drug war. Why not legalize those items, which are causing
the war? Marijuana is the front-runner, and so readily available as to
qualify as an unfunny joke. Simultaneously, we are spending millions,
perhaps billions of dollars to incarcerate those who are willing to take the
risk. We can kill two birds with one stone by enacting legislation to
decriminalize many of those drugs, especially marijuana. We would increase
the revenue, reduce the murder rate, and reduce crowded conditions in some
of penal institutions. Put simply, our drug policy is a miserable,
incredibly expensive failure.

In the name of arithmetic simplicity, let's round off the annual cost to
house one inmate in Fairfax County to $50,000. The proceeds from one ton of
marijuana would take care of maintenance cost for 120 of those inmates. At
the federal level, the latest cost that caught my attention to maintain one
inmate was about $25,000 annually. So why do we continue playing a losing

A residual effect would be to extend the era of independent farmers,
assuming that corporate America would allow them a piece of the action. The
efficiency of farmers would bring the cost down to where there would be
plenty of room for an increasing tax, and the cost would be much lower than
$6 million per ton.

The booze industry, of course, would fight such legislation tooth, nail and
pocketbook. I am idly curious about the amount of "campaign financing" that
went into the fight against passing the 21st Amendment and who bankrolled
the bulk of it.

Raymond Wilkerson

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