Pennsylvania: The Financial Waste of Illegal Marijuana

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Since Colorado legalized marijuana, we’ve seen numerous stories about the windfall of tax revenue reaped by the state, money that is being used for education and social services.

What we’ve heard less about is the windfall reaped by the taxpayers of Colorado no longer funding law enforcement efforts to interdict marijuana sales.

Consider the case here in Allegheny County of Jennifer Chieu, convicted of being the ringleader of a group that imported marijuana from California to the Pittsburgh area. The multi-million dollar ring was investigated extensively, eventually leading to the arrest of 19 people including Chieu.

(Read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article here.)

Had Pennsylvania followed the lead of what are now 4 states with total legalization, they would have literally put Chieu out of business, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the costs of this single investigation, while reaping tax revenue for improving roads, services, education and drug treatment options for truly destructive drugs like heroin. Add to that the costs of imprisoning 19 people for periods of up to 11 years, and the cost of this one bust easily goes over the million dollar mark.

As an attorney, I actually work against my own financial interests fighting for legalization. After all, those people getting busted for pot need a lawyer. But I don’t want to earn money from injustice on a scale that infects the whole legal system with waste and encourages people like Chieu to take a chance at big money. And it truly breaks my heart that I sometimes find myself defending people whose only crime was seeking desperately needed medicine.

Marijuana cases clog up the court system with non-violent offenders. They occupy the time of police, forcing them to waste resources arresting people for something even most cops will admit is harmless.

As was recently seen in the city of Philadelphia, minorities are arrested for marijuana possession at an alarmingly higher rate than whites, even though usage is proportionally equal. This was at the core of their city council’s recent decision to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. You can bet that for a major metropolis that like most big cities is strapped for cash, the costs of policing marijuana use also played a significant role in their decision. Although that’s short of legalization, it does remove the stigma of a drug arrest appearing on the record and reduces it to a summary offense, requiring a greatly reduced amount of resources for the city to enforce.

So the next time you read a story about how much tax revenue is being generated by legal marijuana in states like Colorado or Washington, consider the millions of dollars being saved– dollars that law enforcement can now direct toward protecting the public from real crime.


This article originally appeared on Patrick K. Nightingale’s blog. It is reprinted with permission. 

For previous Ladybud Magazine articles about the cost of the war on drugs, click here!

Photo Credit:  Jeff Belmonte under (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr