Whether you are for its legalization or not, you are paying for marijuana to be illegal. According the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 43.3% of all “Arrests for Drug Abuse Violation” are of people who are in possession of marijuana. Six percent of all drug-abuse violation arrests were for the “Sale/Manufacturing” of marijuana. In other words, a whopping 49.5% of all drug-violation arrests are connected to marijuana. Half of the population that is in prison for substance abuse is in prison for marijuana-related crimes.
Funnily enough, there was a time when it was illegal for farmers not to grow hemp, marijuana’s industrial and THC-deprived cousin that can be used to make fiber, oil, paper, fiberboard, rope, and nutritional hemp-seeds, among a copious amount of other things. in 1619, in the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, a law was passed that required farmers to grow “Indian hemp-seed,” along with various other “must grow” laws spanning the next two centuries.
Why did a renewable resource that had such a wide variety of uses suddenly become taboo for the American citizen and have its history nearly erased from every textbook and museum? The government decided to do what it does best: tax and regulate. 1937 saw the passing of The Marihuana Tax Act. This bill forced any individual who dealt in the sale or transportation of marijuana in any capacity to pay a tax of $1. This would only be a mere $16.18 in today’s economy, but the kicker is that if an individual or party did not pay this tax they would be subject to five years in prison or a fine of $2,000— $32,353.47 today.
It seems as if the government flip-flopped its stance on hemp and marijuana after the repeal of Prohibition, which itself was repealed because of the rise in organized crime and violent illegal suppliers of alcohol that it caused — a result which, interestingly enough, seem to be the same tragic result of the prohibition on marijuana.
Let us work out some arithmetic based again on FBI statistics. In 2011, law enforcement personnel arrested a massive 12,408,899 individuals. Of these, 1,531,251, 12.3%, were for “drug abuse violations.” 49.5% of these individuals were for crimes relating to marijuana. That is 757,969 people arrested for crimes dealing with marijuana. Knowing how many people were arrested in 2011 for marijuana related offenses, let us calculate the cost of this incarceration for taxpayers.
According to Urban Institute Justice Policy Center, the yearly cost for an inmate in a minimum security prison is $21,006. Let us use this figure because 56% of all inmates are housed in minimum security institutions. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in 2010, the average prison sentence for inmates incarcerated for marijuana abuses is 36.8 years.
With 757,969 individuals incarcerated for marijuana abuse, at $21,006 a pop, that is $15,921,896,814 to keep these individuals imprisoned for one year. At this rate, over the course of 36.8 years, $585,925,802,755 would have to be coughed up by the American taxpayer to clothe, shelter, offer medical, dental and psychiatric care, maintain, transport, and educate these individuals and maintain facilities for them to live in. This — $585 billion over more than 30 years — is the grand cost of petty crime.