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Marijuana Enforcement in California: A Costly and Wasteful War

by D. Gieringer, CANORML

Costs of Prohibition:

  • Marijuana accounts for 15,000 felony arrests per year, at a cost to the state of about $100 million. Over half of arrestees are black and minorities.
  • CAMP helicopters disrupt the peace of our wilderness, invading personal privacy and promoting the spread of cultivation to public lands.
  • State eradication programs destroy an estimated $300 million in marijuana per year -- revenue that is lost to the local economy and diverted to foreign suppliers.
  • Californians consume about $3 - 6 billion worth of marijuana per year, representing some $250 - 500 million in lost sales taxes alone.
  • The war on marijuana has deprived us of an economically valuable crop, cannabis hemp, a productive source of fiber, biomass, protein and oil.
  • The war on marijuana has cruelly deprived medical patients of valuable therapy for nausea from chemotherapy, AIDS, glaucoma, chronic pain and spasticity, migraines, depression and other diseases.

The war on marijuana has not controlled drug abuse. On the contrary, the record shows clearly that the crackdown on marijuana fueled the state's disastrous cocaine epidemic. Recent studies have found that marijuana tends to substitute for alcohol and harder drugs, and that states with tough marijuana laws tend to have worse accident and drug abuse problems.

California's marijuana decrim law has been a success: The Moscone Act reduced the penalty for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana from a felony to a minor misdemeanor in 1976. Since its passage, the state has saved $90 million per year in arrest and court costs, while consumption declined to its lowest level since 1967, when use was still a felony.

Official studies have consistently called for further decriminalization, including the National Academy of Sciences (1982), the Presidential Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (1973), and the state Research Advisory Panel (1990), which recommended legalizing personal use and cultivation of marijuana.

Marijuana legalization works. In the Netherlands, where cannabis is legally available in coffee shops, only 5% of the population are regular users, while opiate and hard drug addiction is lower than in neighboring countries. Other foreign countries, including Germany, Australia, Italy, Switzerland and France, are seriously considering the Dutch system.

-- D. Gieringer, Coordinator, California NORML, July 1993.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, NORML
2215-R Market Street #278
San Francisco CA 94114
tel: 415-563-5858


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