US Institute: Marijuana Legalization Didn’t Reduce Criminal Justice Expenditure

Ending prohibition or marijuana legalization is not a boon for criminal justice expenditure, says a report by Cato Institute.

The Washington-based Cato Institute “briefly” evaluated the budgetary effects of state marijuana legalizations that have already taken place in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

Colorado and Washington were the first US states to allow the sales of recreational marijuana in 2014, and Oregon followed a year after.

While Cato’s study found that legalization in these states “has generated more tax revenue than previously forecast,” it didn’t reduce criminal justice expenditure.

“Despite the sharp decline in marijuana arrests, criminal justice expenditures in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have risen slightly,” author of the report, Jeffrey Miron said, citing official data from Oregon Criminal Justice Information Services, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations Uniform Crime Reports.

“One possible explanation is that marijuana offenses accounted for a small share of arrests and prosecutions even before legalization,” Miron, who is the director of economic studies at Cato Institute and the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, said.

Using figures showing a state-by-state breakdown of state and local expenditure on drug prohibition in 2016, he said “criminal justice expenditure attributable to marijuana represented only 15 percent of total expenditure in these three states,” mulling that these states were probably channeling their resources to combat other types of drug and nondrug crimes.

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Eron Silverstein, 51, right, shops for marijuana at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California, January 2, 2018. (File image via Reuters)
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Media Outlets Focus on Marijuana Only

Miron said while media outlets and policymakers “mostly focus” on marijuana, “the majority of budgetary gains would likely come from legalizing heroin and cocaine.”

His report estimated that $47.9 billion is spent annually on drug prohibition enforcement, arguing that “58.8 billion could potentially be raised in tax revenue.”

The figure 58.8 is Miron’s estimate of the summary of expenditure savings and additional revenues from all-drug legalization for 2016.

“Combined, these figures suggest that the fiscal windfall of drug legalization could be as high as $107 billion,” he said to push for all-drug legalization argument.

Analysis Doesn’t Cover Medical Costs

Some critics see a void in the analysis, especially when arguing for legalizing all drugs including cocaine and heroin in hopes of reducing costs for the law enforcement.

“The problem is the author has chosen to only focus on the impact of legalizing all drugs will have on law enforcement,” the Toronto-based MD graduate, Dr. Kresstine Fernando, told The Puff Puff Post.

Dr. Fernando said the author “fails to recognize that revenue ‘saved’ from paying police officers will simply be channeled to medicine and pharmaceutical sectors.”

“When drugs like cocaine and heroin are legalized, there need to be countermeasures set in place,” she said, which will be requiring more money in case of increasing drug use.

If more people use drugs like heroin or cocaine, more doctors, nurses, and counselors will be needed.

“Marijuana does not usually cause serious effects of overdoses, but drugs like heroin and cocaine can and do,” the doctor said, explaining that clear difference.

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