War on Drugs Figures Released
The Michigan State Police have released arrest statistics, county by county, for 2014. Specifically, we are going to look at the numbers for marijuana. While we imagine the War on Drugs being fought against heroin, meth, and prescription drug abuse, the numbers tell a very different story:
In Arenac County, there were 85 marijuana related arrests, 71 for simple possession, and this represented 90% of all drug arrests in the county. Population is 15,353 and rate is 5.5/1000.
In Clare County, there were 93 marijuana related arrests, 72 for simple possession, and this represented 77% of all drug arrests in the county. Population is 30,652 and the rate is 3/1000
In Gladwin County, there were 121 marijuana related arrests, 98 for simple possession, and this represents 81% of all drug arrests in the county. Population is 25,411 and the rate is 4.8/1000
In Osceola County, there were 78 marijuana related arrests, 76 were for simple possession, and this represents 77% of all drug arrests in the county. Population is 23,169 and the rate is 3.4/1000.
In Michigan overall, marijuana related arrests are up 17% between the passage of the MMMA in 2008 and 2014. Crime is down 15%. There were 23,817 marijuana arrests, 86% of which were for simple possession. In Grand Rapids, which decriminalized marijuana possession for adults (a voter initiative fought all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court by the Kent Co. Prosecutor) arrests related to marijuana dropped from 952 to 93. Clare Co. Defeated a similar voter initiative.
The Cost of the War on Drugs in the 97th District
I spoke with an attorney friend of mine that does marijuana defense work. In an uncontested 7411 prosecution (no real penalty and charges dropped after a year and record expunged) the legal fees to defend are about $1500. If the case goes to trial, it STARTS at $2000-3500 and goes up. We will take an average of $1750 a case to give credit to our county prosecutors for working with the defendants and avoiding long term damage to their earning potential and criminal records. Kind of what you would like to see if your child or sibling was caught with a joint behind the barn.
Legal Defense Costs per County:
Arenac County- $124,250
Clare County- $126,000
Gladwin County- $171,500
Osceola County- $133,000
The cost to the residents of the 97th District to defend against these uncomplicated and relatively uncontested cases is $554,750. While some of this is county paid in the form of public defenders, this is offset by the contested cases that can cost thousands of dollars. Sufficient to say, without these prosecutions, residents of the 97th would have over 1/2 million in their pockets. This is the money you, the residents of the 97th, need to pay your rents, to educate your children, to buy your groceries. It is your auto repairs because you need a car to get to work. It is the money you need for equipment to expand your business.
But the cost does not stop there. The prosecutors have to spend money, so do the courts, police, probation departments, drug counselors- some of this comes out of county funds, some from the defendants. This brings the cost to around $1,000,000 to the district. Now we add in the intangibles- interrupted education, lost productivity at work, decreased job potential and ineligibility for military service. I’ll let the readers place a cost to the District for that.
Increase this to all of Michigan- we are talking around $64,000,000 in costs associated with simple possession of marijuana. This specifically excludes improper transportation, it also excludes large scale crimes, manufacturing, selling, smuggling, etc. That $64 million represents around 1850 miles of road repair- per year. Remember that the next time you hit a pothole. That hole is there because the money to repair it went to War on Drugs.
One final note on the cost- In addition to the legal costs associated with the prosecution of simple possession, law enforcement took $22,000,000 in civil forfeiture (in many cases without convictions or even charges) from the residents of Michigan. That is enough for those families to send 550 of their children to college, for 4 years each.
Drug Task Forces
We have a series of drug task forces in the state. These are the people in tactical gear that we read about cleaning up meth labs and getting heroin and prescription drugs off the streets. They need military equipment to do this, for officer safety. As we read those press releases, we should keep mind that in the 97th district, 82% of ALL DRUG ARRESTS are for getting caught smoking a joint behind the barn. This is similar to what we see as a state. Do we need mine resistant vehicles and assault rifles to handle that?
Is There a Better Way?
Despite the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act by voter initiative (it carried in all 4 counties of the 97th by over 60%), arrests are up for possession, and crime overall is down. In Grand Rapids, arrests dropped 90% for ALL marijuana ‘crimes’, even beyond marijuana possession. This is a little misleading, as the number of ‘incidents’ involving marijuana didn’t change at all- 90% became a civil fine ($25-100) rather than supporting the courts, prosecutors, jails, drug counselors, defense attorneys and probation officers of Kent Co. Little wonder the Kent County Prosecutor spent all that county money fighting the ordinance through the courts.
Not withstanding the 61% support of outright legalization, the 80% support of ‘medical’ marijuana, and the fact that there are two petitions circulating to put the issue on the ballot this November, we should have a discussion about our priorities. Do we fix roads, or do we continue to prosecute simple possession as a criminal offense? My vote will be to let the police concentrate their efforts on crime, to reserve jail for actual criminals; and to stop the hemorrhage of money, productivity, and personal potential that the prosecution of simple possession entails.
In addition to the sheer numbers of arrests, this article discusses the disproportionate way the laws are enforced. It is a very informative read.