by Maximilian Eyle
According to the ACLU, black and Latino people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts. In New York City, 87% of those arrested for marijuana were black or Latino. This is particularly shocking given that marijuana use among blacks, Latinos, and whites is approximately equal. As Michelle Alexander wrote in her book The New Jim Crow (2010), these laws are part of a system of institutional discrimination that greatly affects minority communities throughout America.
To understand the significance of these statistics we have to consider what the impact of a marijuana arrest is. Many people experiment with marijuana as youths, but those who are arrested for it will experience the consequences of this arrest for the rest of their lives. The overwhelming majority of those arrested for marijuana are under the age of 30. Consider the 18 year old who is convicted of a marijuana charge. Even if he does not go to prison, he will have this on his criminal record. Anyone who has filled out a job application knows that they ask if you have been convicted of a crime. For the rest of his life, this person will now have a great barrier to finding employment and leading a productive life. Depending on the level of the conviction, a marijuana charge can disqualify the person from being eligible for college loans, public housing, and many other opportunities. The system of marijuana prohibition has made it nearly impossible for this youth to move on with his life. Instead of rehabilitating him, these restrictions will encourage him to enter a life of crime.
In addition to the social costs of persecuting these young members of the black and Latino communities, marijuana prohibition creates great fiscal costs for the government. In New York State, it costs $60,000 per year to keep an inmate in prison. In New York City, the figure is three times that. Is it worth spending so many of our tax dollars keeping a marijuana user in prison when our roads and bridges are falling apart? Especially since these laws have done nothing to lower the use of marijuana? States like Colorado and Washington that have legalized, regulated, and taxed marijuana for adult use have avoided these social problems and financial costs while also raising money for their state through marijuana taxation. In the State of New York, we could raise an estimated $650 million dollars in tax revenue per year off of legal marijuana sales and create as many as 100,000 new jobs. Ending marijuana arrests would also save us over $1 billion per year in criminal justice costs. We should consider this more productive approach to drug policy instead of filling our prisons and wasting our tax dollars.
Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has experience working in the drug policy field and writes about it every month for CNY Latino. Maximilian learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.