Law Enforcement

Jail Dopers For Criminal Acts–Not Drug Use

By Dr. Richard Jay

At a time when Idaho’s state budget crisis threatens to cut essential state services and corral prisoners in warehouses, perhaps it is time to reconsider a long-recommended plan that would be all pluses for the state.

It’s simple to explain: Repeal the law making “drug” use a penal crime. Note that this is not saying to make the trafficking in or manufacture of those drugs lawful, or reduce the penalty for doing so. It is simply saying that we should stop putting people in prison for using drugs.

This one simple act could have dramatic beneficial effects on the addict, the finances of the state and various important state programs. And it would cost less, not more, to implement it than does our present policy.

The benefits are many, but a few jump right at us:

-Stop imprisoning people for an offense that rarely causes violent harm to anyone else. (Other laws handle violence or injuries.)

-Permit consequences to the user more appropriate to the degree of the offense (such as mandatory treatment), rather than overkill with prison time, which often turns users into serious criminals.

-Permit rehabilitation programs (which we now say we can’t afford) that might have some chance of working – which prison almost never does.

-Save jobs, marriages, families and reputations from permanent damage.

-Save the state and its taxpayers from the horrendous continuing acceleration (without an end in sight) in outlays to finance new prisons and penal costs.

-Leave the saved money for education, health programs, environmental improvements and countless other needs that we now struggle to, or fail to, finance.

-Free funds to pursue and bring to justice the manufacturers and traffickers in illegal drugs – operations that are now grossly underfunded.

-Encourage drug users to seek help with their problems, which imprisonment does not.

Such a proposal would, no doubt, bring the wrath of those who benefit from terror tactics and mindless fear-mongering, but it should be possible to find legislators from both parties (who do not think with their glands) who could jointly develop and present the proposal as a nonpartisan one, and one that unlike our existing imprisonment response might create some real benefits and solutions to a problem that prisons simply cannot help.

Dr. Richard Jay of Boise is a retired professor of economics.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Amen. I for one cannot understand why marijuana should be illegal. Although I have not used it since I left San Francisco 40 years ago, I remember that it is totally harmless, except for the user’s waist line. Nothing like pot to stimulate one’s appetite. Make drugs legal and tax them like booze – make some money for the state.

  2. The war on drugs has and remains a statistics driven affair. It is an abysmal failure. Drugs today are more potent, cheaper and easier than ever to obtain.

    We have had over 30 years of the war on drugs and it is time to declare victory and legalize a lot of the nonsense around certain drugs.

    The trafficers know interdiction is almost useless and figure at least a 25% loss into their business plan.

    Eliminate marijuana as an illegal drug. Package and tax it to death. Nobody has died from an overdose, users are non-violent and those busted take up valuable space in jails and prisons.

    I would be curious to know how crime statistics in the Netherlands compare to ours in the USA. Drugs have been legalized over there for a number of years and things seem pretty civil overall.

  3. Is anyone old enough to remember Prohibition?
    Has anyone studied history?

    Prohibition of manufacture, sale and possession of alcoholic beverages did very little to trim usage, but it sure made a lot of moonshiners, bootleggers and mob members rich. It also led to violent shootouts among the gangs, plus major damage to drinkers who bought from the wrong bootleggers (some of the stuff was literally poison; some was simply contaminated, much as some illegal drugs are today).

    Marijuana is the strangest one to keep wasting cops’ time and taxpayer dollars on. It’s still easily available everywhere, but sometimes is spiked with other drugs in an effort to get people “hooked,” since the pot itself is generally considered (by scientists who study such things) to be not physically addictive. Quality is uneven (which can make it dangerous for an occasional user who normally smokes homegrown but happens to get a batch of Alcapulco Gold or some other high-octane stuff), and, as in the case of liquor, it’s making the smugglers and gangs rich.
    It could be controlled the same way alcoholic beverages are: Limit where it can be sold (to try to prevent sales to minors), set standards for strength, sell it in either the state liquor stores (in Idaho) or in other stores (as in most of the United States). Tax it big time, as with liquor. Permit growing small amounts for personal use (as we permit making beer and wine for personal use).
    That’s the only way we’ll ever get any control of it — and the only way to stop the expenses, violence and other problems that go with prohibition.

  4. Tom Anderson
    Feb 21, 2009, 10:20 pm

    What we need is a new cause in America.

    I propose we turn the entire US military loose in “The War on Stupidity”.

    America can then directly punish politicians who support stupid laws like criminalizing marijuana while cigarettes and alcohol are legal.

  5. Theresa Burkes
    Feb 22, 2009, 11:02 am

    Terrific idea. Focus on real crime.

  6. John Paul Jones
    Feb 22, 2009, 12:39 pm

    I think Idaho looks at prison as an industry , come on, $35.00 a day to pay a fine (slave wages),take a fine to civil court. Oh, Yea, I know the juvenile courts lock up too many kids and caught with just a little bit of pot will get a kid in big trouble and God help the parents ( better have plenty of money). Prisons are a big industry In Idaho. Remember, It is all about jobs,jobs,jobs.

  7. The sensible policy would be to allow home use only. You can’t have it on the street, you can’t sell it, but what you do in your own home is your business alone. I don’t think that’s so far out of line with policies suggested regarding other activities. Keep the government out of our bedrooms AND living rooms.

    As for the basement and attic or garage, there should probably be a line drawn over how much “drugs” can be “manufactured”. A certain number of house plants is one thing, but thousands of them might reasonably be considered intent to sell.

    I realize there are problems with this general policy, such as cooking meth, or getting ripped and then going out for a drive. I don’t have all the answers. Just the best ones.

  8. john mitchel
    Feb 22, 2009, 7:20 pm

    There is a BIG difference between drug ( and alcohol)use of 14 year olds vs. those 19-20. The 14 year olds get into much more irresponsible (and illegal) behavior when they turn 18-20. Is this the result of early drug use—people smarter than I say a resounding “yes”. Personally, I don’t care what an adult responsible person does on their own time and in their own home; I DO have a problem with high school kids smoking dope on their lunch hour and riding around the city doped up. A kid at Boise H.S. was arrested several months ago with 3 pounds of pot in his car—this never made the papers or news. Tacit complacency?? This is an all too regular occurrence here in our cute little community—-ask any high school age kid about “availability” in school and they will tell you. The other salient problem with legalization (which many in this blog are leaning toward) is: Big crime bosses move in and take over the “trade”. For proof of this just look at Holland—they are going through some real pain trying to reverse their legal use of drugs because of increasing syndication by mafia-type operations. Personally, I don’t want M-13 as a prevalent voice in our community. I agree that the drug war is a disaster BUT how do you allow just “a little usage”—is that like a “little bit pregnant”?

  9. Tom Anderson
    Feb 22, 2009, 11:06 pm

    Drugs are illegal because:

    -Big Pharma doesn’t like competition
    -The largest banks in America make a fortune laundering drug money
    -The criminalization creates a class of people that are virtual slaves and must work or be considered a parole violator
    -Americans are uneducated about drugs and are easily swayed by propaganda
    -Americans are afraid of their government, which happens to be the prelude to a pure dictatorship.

    Little known fact >> 70% of all animals intentionally eat things that make them intoxicated.

    What this means >> Getting ‘high’ is a natural act, not some sort of dangerous perversion.

    (Dangerous perversions are the propriatary domain of our politicians)

  10. I reiterate my long standing call for the Boise City Council to direct Law Enforcement to immediately deprioritize marijuana “crimes” and redeploy these resources to battling violent crime.

    Hailey, Idaho recently joined the growing number of communities that have voted to deprioritize / decriminalize – vis-à-vis legalize – marijuana.

    In 2006, 89% of the nearly 830,000 Americans arrested for marijuana offenses were arrested for mere possession.

    That’s over 3/4 of a Million arrests that consume Billions of Dollars and diverts the equivalent of 113,000 Law Enforcement Officers away from serious crime.

    As the Mayor of Baltimore (I think) once said: “If the war on drugs were any other war, we would have hoisted the white flag and shot the generals years ago.”

  11. An idea as wise as it has always been. It’s been presented so many times, it’s a wonder it’s not been enacted, until you consider the points raised by Tom Anderson above. It’s not about logic, it’s about business (as with most “legal” decisions).

  12. lib.redneck
    Feb 23, 2009, 1:43 pm

    Simply decriminalize marijuana and psilocybin. Have marijuana and psilocybin use fall under the same guidelines as tobacco and alcohol. We can have a new organization called F.P.A.C.T. Firearms, Psilocybin, Alcohol, Canabis, Tobacco. A simple $100 fine for each offense. It should be as simple as a littering citation or a seatbelt violation. No jail time; even if you had 100lbs. Simple supply and demand would destroy the high prices. The slippery slope fallacy about people wandering around stoned and driving cars is unfounded. There are probably responsible users living in your neighborhood. I bet your kids play with their kids. Heck, I bet those ‘users’ read the Guardian everyday! Come on Tom… Con.Spi.Theos know about the psilocybin…man….

  13. Why does government get to make weed illegal? Didn’t God invent it?

    Hemp provides more than recreation. It provides food, fuel and fiber. The essentials of any economy. We could have a new economy based on hemp production. Hemp threatens the status quo. God forbid a person to self medicate. The growing of hemp cuts out too many middlemen, cops ,criminals, penal system, cotton, cargill (oil), insurance, healthcare etc.

    This might be the year to get a hemp/de-criminalization bill on the ballot. Wonder how much money the (morons) opposition has to fight it?

  14. John Mitchell,
    When I lived in Alaska you could grow your own weed legally. Everyone had a few plants or the neighbors had some. I don’t remember kids being stoned all the time. It grows everywhere in Asia and the mob could care less. The locals don’t even do it.
    Why do the kids want your Playboys? Because you try to hide it from them. Like almost all wars, this one is a total looser. The folks (morons) that bought you the war on drugs are the same ones that told us guys we would go blind or grow hair where it normally doesn’t grow.

  15. For all those wanting to legalize, or de-criminalize pot, I’ll make you a deal.
    I will help you lobby to legalize pot if you will help me lobby to make possession, manufacture, and distribution of all other drugs (coke, meth, heroin,LSD,et al) a capital offense. You want to solve the drug problem? Let’s do it!

  16. Dr. Jay: “… find legislators from both parties (who do not think with their glands)…”

    Stop trying to confuse us with the medical mumbo-jumbo, Doc!

  17. Cyc,
    Explain what coke, meth,heroin,lsd et al, have to do with a plant God invented? The stuff grows wild by the side of the road in Nebraska. The so called “gateway drug” idea is a crock. If you buy that logic then all criminal drug users started with coffee and cigarettes. Some people get addicted to sex so why don’t we kill them? Cigarettes are more addictive than heroin and cost billions in health care expenses from the damage tobacco causes. George Bush used cocaine, or so the legend goes. Capital punishment should be reserved for criminals not users or addicts. I’ve never seen where capital punishment has deterred murderers.

  18. I agree with you Dog about pot. I have never understood why it was so demonized. The balance of hard drugs however, are a different story. I am not speaking about “gateway” anything. I am simply saying that hard drugs serve no pupose in society and therefore neither does anyone who decides, yes chooses, to use them!

  19. Cyclops: “… help me lobby to make possession, manufacture, and distribution of all other drugs (coke, meth, heroin,LSD,et al) a capital offense.”

    Dr. Jay isn’t distinguishing between “demon reefer” and harder drugs. His point seems to be that there’s no benefit to society, in imprisoning offenders for POSSESSION of any of those drugs. (Manufacture or distribution – different story. Crimes committed by users – different story.)

    I tend to believe that adults should have the freedom to self-destruct, if that’s their choice. Or at least it’s not the govermnent’s place to intervene… or selectively intervene. (Self-destruct on alcohol… no problem. Self-destruct on amphetamine or cocaine – jail time for you!) If meaningful help can be provided, for those who want to reform… and if the cost of such help is less than imprisonment… why not?

  20. We don’t disagree Bikeboy. I just want to install an “express lane” to assist them on their journey!

  21. “I don’t have all the answers. Just the best ones.”

    Razz: I *love* that line! (I hope you don’t mind if I “borrow” it sometime and use it on some other subject.)

  22. need tourists? decriminalize pot. it’s that simple.
    Think of the increase in food consumption… both purchased from eateries and stores.
    happy tourists, happy economy, happy residents. less people in jail, less silly use of the courts and the cops.

  23. Dog says: “George Bush used cocaine …”

    Dog, if that’s true, it would be a good argument for really cracking down on cocaine users. Jeez — look what it did to him! Or maybe he would have been that way even if he had never used any drugs or alcohol, who knows?

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