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Jailhouse Barack | I like koalas.
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Jailhouse Barack

Posted by on October 20, 2009

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

According to an article over at the Springfield News-Leader, the Missouri prison population has inexplicably reached an all-time high. On a related note, I’d like to take this opportunity to commend President Barack Obama for scaling back the police state milieu slightly with his recent announcement that federal authorities will no longer pursue users and suppliers of medical marijuana, provided that the individuals and businesses in question conform to state laws.

How are these related? Well, during 2005, 20 percent of the state prison population in the United States were nonviolent drug offenders. The policy issue here is: “How should our limited tax dollars be spent? In particular, how much should go to incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders?” Obama has recognized that deprioritizing the pursuit of certain nonviolent drug offenders will alleviate some of the fiscal burden caused by funding for enforcement and incarceration. Similarly, and especially given the sea change in federal policy, there is an opportunity here to relax some of the tax burden for Missouri citizens involved with putting nonviolent drug users away for a decade or two. Let me spell it out: Legalized medical marijuana in the state of Missouri would simultaneously help many people who are ailing and reduce the tax burden that comes from incarcerating users.

For what it’s worth, I also commend Obama’s move insofar as it is a nod to increased state sovereignty. A government by and for the people is easier to manage when fewer people need to agree on how to proceed, so sovereignty at lower levels is highly encouraged. For more on that, see my post about Charles Tiebout and the blessing of prioritizing local governance.

4 Responses to Jailhouse Barack

  1. Dave

    I didn’t realize Missouri had so many individuals incarcerated for solely providing and/or smoking medicinal marijuana that legalizing it would be the best choice for relieving the tax burden.

    I would have thought that the control, governance, and enforcement of this new medicinal market would be much more burdensome on the tax payers…

  2. vroman

    if your concerns were valid, an easy solution then would be to spend zero tax dollars on control, governance, or enforcement.

    regardless, even if it were the case that the exact same amount of tax burden was required either to regulate medicinal marijauna, or prosecute it, the former is vastly preferable, since it is not destroying lives.

  3. Tom Albus

    A couple points”

    1 – It is misleading to describe crack dealers and meth cooks and “nonviolent drug offenders” and that is who, in the main, Missouri actually incarcerates. Drug users, if they are ever charges, are generally not incarcerated unless they were also violating their probation or parole at the time of their drug possession and even then the sentences are brief. The drug trade is lubricated and protected by violence. Moreover, drug users often resort to violence to feed their habits. I have no problem in keeping people like this out of free society.

    2 – I would think the Show Me institute would object to the Obama administration’s decision to overrule Congress through the actions of unelected bureaucrats – even if it agrees with the particular policy (non-prosecution of medical marijuana shops) the bureaucrats are espousing in a particular case.

  4. Eric D. Dixon

    Hi, Tom:
    Sorry that your post took so long to appear; it got caught in our spam filter and I just noticed it today.

    1. The violence associated with the drug trade is a direct effect of the fact that government has criminalized the use, possession, manufacture, and sale of recreational drugs. People engaging in criminalized trade have no recourse to courts or police to settle disputes, and violence becomes a common alternative. Eliminate the illegality and most forms of drug-related violence would also disappear.

    2. Congress has no business overriding state policy on drug use in the first place — except, possibly, in an inverted scenario whereby the feds legalize drugs that the states prefer to criminalize, thereby fulfilling an application the 14th Amendment’s privileges and immunities clause.

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