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Alabama Tax on Illegal Drugs Goes from Weapon to ‘Headache’

Location: 
AL
United States
Alabama’s illegal drug tax dates back to the late 1980s, when state governments were looking for new ways to crack down on the drug trade. In 1998, according to state documents, Alabama collected $161,947 in taxes on illegal drugs. In 2010, collections were just $1,275. Charles Crumbley, director of the Investigations Division at the State Department of Revenue, said, "Enforcing it was just more trouble than it was worth."
Publication/Source: 
The Anniston Star (AL)
URL: 
http://annistonstar.com/bookmark/12617678-Alabama-tax-on-illegal-drugs-goes-from-weapon-to-%E2%80%98headache%E2%80%99

Pot Politics on Capitol Hill: Proponents Aim to Shift Industry's Image

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana are hoping to build momentum on Capitol Hill after a historic election that saw the politics of pot take center stage in four states. The marijuana industry's public relations campaign has so far been limited to states, especially California, where a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana almost passed in November. But today, the National Cannabis Industry Association, launched in December to represent the interests of legal marijuana growers and distributors, will hold the first congressional lobbying day in the nation's capital, hoping to shore up support for an industry they say could bring billions of dollars in revenue to the government.
Publication/Source: 
ABC News (US)
URL: 
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/pot-politics-capitol-hill-proponents-aim-shift-marijuana/story?id=13251446

Medical Marijuana Market Huge and Growing, Investors Report Finds

The size of the US medical marijuana market is $1.7 billion, and that figure is likely to increase in coming years, according to a new report from See Change Strategy LLC, an independent financial firm. An executive summary of the report, The State of the Medical Marijuana Markets 2011, is available at MedicalMarijuanaMarkets.com.

The medical marijuana business: a growth industry. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
"Hundreds of businesses exist around the country that cultivate and sell marijuana to customers," said report author Ted Rose in a statement. "Many of these businesses emerged in the wake of the Obama administration's decision to deprioritize federal prosecutions of individuals and business complying with state medical marijuana laws. The State of the Medical Marijuana Markets 2011 shows which states represent the most active markets, who is making money, and how are they doing it."

Although 15 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws, sales of medical marijuana through retail outlets are currently legal in only seven of them (and only arguably legal in some of those). But four more states and DC are expected to begin medical marijuana sales this year, the report said. Between expansion of the number of locales where medical marijuana is sold, increases in the number of patients taking advantage of medical marijuana laws, and increasing regulatory clarity, the market is set for further growth, Rose said.

"We predict that the current markets will double in the next five years," he said in a Wednesday conference call. He estimated that the size of the medical market will reach $8.9 billion by 2016.

The report found that one in four Americans live in medical marijuana states and that nearly 25 million could currently qualify as medical marijuana patients. Only about 730,000 are currently doing so.

In a sign of a maturing industry, Rose said medical marijuana business operators were more worried about regulations and obtaining financing then they were about competition or getting busted. He said that 90% of operators saw medical marijuana as a growth industry.

The study was conducted over the course of eight months and consisted of surveys and interviews with about 300 businesses in the medical marijuana industry.

Drug Courts Poor Public Policy, Reports Charge [FEATURE]

With a pair of separate reports released Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) have issued a damning indictment of drug courts as a policy response to drug use. Instead of relying on criminal justice approaches like drug courts, policymakers would be better served by moving toward evidence-based public health approaches, including harm reduction and drug treatment, as well as by decriminalizing drug use, the reports conclude.

Since then-Dade County District Attorney Janet Reno created the first drug court in Miami in 1989, drug courts have appeared all over the country and now number around 2,000. In drug courts, drug offenders are given the option of avoiding prison by instead pleading guilty and being put under the scrutiny of the drug court judge. Drug courts enforce abstinence by imposing sanctions on offenders who relapse, including jail or prison time and being thrown out of the program and imprisoned on the original charge. The Obama administration wants to provide $57 million in federal funding for them in its FY 2012 budget.

Through organizations like the National Association of Drug Court Professionals  (NADCP), the drug court movement has created a well-oiled public relations machine to justify its existence and expansion. NADCP maintains that the science shows that drug courts work and even maintains a convenient response to criticisms leveled by earlier critics.

The Chronicle contacted NADCP for comment this week, but representatives of the group said they were still digesting the reports and would issue a statement in a few days.

But in a Monday teleconference, DPA, JPI, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), which issued its own critical report on America's Problem-Solving Courts in 2009, slashed away at drug court claims of efficacy and scientific support. Drug courts are harsh on true addicts, don't benefit the public health or safety, and are an inefficient use of criminal justice system resources, they said.

"The drug court phenomenon is, in large part, a case of good intentions being mistaken for a good idea," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA's Southern California state deputy director and co-author of the DPA report, Drug Courts are Not the Answer: Toward a Health-Centered Approach to Drug Use. "Drug courts have helped many people, but they have also failed many others, focused resources on people who could be better treated outside the criminal justice system and in some cases even led to increased incarceration. As long as they focus on people whose only crime is their health condition, drug courts will be part of the problem -- not the solution -- created by drug war policies," she said.

"Even if drug courts were able to take in all 1.4 million people arrested for just drug possession each year, over 500,000 to 1 million people would be kicked out and sentenced conventionally," Dooley-Sammuli added. "Drug courts just don't make sense as a response to low-level drug violations."

The DPA report found that drug courts have not demonstrated cost savings, reduced incarceration, or improved public safety. Previous "unscientific and poorly designed research" supporting drug courts has failed to acknowledge that drug courts often "cherry pick" people expected to do well, that many petty drug law violators choose drug courts because they are offered a choice of treatment or jail and drug courts thus are not diverting large numbers of people from long prison sentences, or that, given their focus on low-level drug violators, even positive results for individuals accrue few public safety benefits for the community.

Not only are drug courts' successes unproven, DPA said, they are often worse for the people participating in them. Their quick resort to incarceration for relapses means some defendants end up serving more time than if they had stayed out of drug court. And defendants who "fail" in drug court may face longer sentences because they lost the opportunity to plead to a lesser charge. In addition, the existence of drug courts is associated with increased arrests and imprisonment because law enforcement and others believe people will "get help" if arrested.

Worst, the DPA report found, drug courts are toughest on those who most need treatment for their addictions. Because of their use of quick sanctions against those who relapse, the seriously addicted are more likely to end up incarcerated for failing to stay clean, while those who don't have a drug problem are most likely to succeed. Drug courts typically don't allow what Dooley-Sammuli called the "gold standard" of treatment for opiate addiction, methadone or other maintenance therapies.

Drug courts should be reserved for cases involving offenses against persons and property committed by people who have substance abuse problems, while providing other options such as probation or treatment for people arrested for low-level drug law violations, the report recommended. It also called for bolstering public health systems, including harm reduction and drug treatment programs, to deal with drug use outside the criminal justice system, and for decriminalizing drug use to end the problem of mass arrests and incarceration.

"Drug courts are not a true alternative to incarceration," said Natassia Walsh, author of the JPI report, Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependency on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities. "They are widening the net of criminal justice control. Even the mere existence of a drug court means more people are arrested for drug offenses, which brings more people into the criminal justice system, which means increased costs for states and localities, as well as for offenders and their families."

The JPI report found that providing people with alternatives like community-based drug treatment are more cost-effective and have more public safety benefits than treatment attached to the criminal justice system, with all its collateral consequences.

"It is shameful that for many people, involvement in the criminal justice system is the only way to access substance abuse treatment in this country," said Walsh. "We need to change the way we think about drug use and the drug policies that bring so many people into the justice system. The dramatic increase in drug courts over the past 20 years may provide talking points for so-called 'tough-on-crime' policymakers; however, there are other, better options that can save money and support people and communities. More effective, community-based programs and services that can have a positive, lasting impact on individuals, families and communities should be available."

"All three of our reports have some things in common, " said the NACDL's Elizabeth Kelly. "They recognize that substance abuse is a public health issue not appropriate for the criminal justice system to handle, they recognize that these problem-solving courts cherry pick their participants, allowing them to inflate success rates, and they recognize that drug courts exclude the people who are most problematic and who have the most profound addictions," she said.

"It is fundamentally bad public policy to make the only means to treatment through the criminal justice system that stigmatizes and burdens the individual with all the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction," Kelly concluded.

The fight to avoid the drug policy dead end that is drug courts is on.

Oklahoma House Passes Corrections Reform Bill

The Oklahoma House of Representatives Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill designed to relieve prison overcrowding. The bill, House Bill 2131, would substantially change the way Oklahoma sentences and paroles nonviolent offenders and it is estimated that it will save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in coming years if it is enacted into law.

Who would have thunk it? Corrections reform is moving in Oklahoma. (Image via Wikimedia)
The bill changes "default" sentencing from consecutive to concurrent terms, which would substantially reduce the length of prison stays. Under the bill, instead of automatically sentencing offenders to consecutive terms, judges or prosecutors must specify that the terms must run consecutively.

The bill also changes the parole process by eliminating the need for the governor to approve parole for nonviolent offenders. Currently, Oklahoma requires the governor to sign off on every parole. Under the bill, if the governor does not act on a nonviolent offender parole request within 30 days, parole will be granted.

The bill also would expand eligibility for community sentencing programs and GPS monitoring for certain low-risk offenders.

"These changes would result in the better use of taxpayer dollars, increase in public safety and more appropriate consequences for low-risk offenders," said House Speaker Kris Steele (R). Changing default sentencing unless a judge or district attorney objects means "the standards will be that the sentences will run concurrently and that will ultimately save money," Steele said.

The bill passed 87-4 with no debate and no questions. It now heads to the state Senate.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Mass Marijuana Arrest Policy Costs NYC Big Bucks

In a report released Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance charged that New York City's unwritten policy of mass arrests of pot smokers -- overwhelmingly young and minority -- is costing the city $75 million a year. The report, bluntly titled $75 Million a Year: The Cost of New York City's Marijuana Arrests, was co-authored by City University of New York professor and marijuana arrest expert Harry Levine.

drug arrest scene, "10 Rules for Dealing with Police," flexyourrights.org
Although New York state decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s, the NYPD has made it a practice to stop and frisk people by the hundreds of thousands a year and demand that they empty their pockets. When they produce marijuana from their pockets, they are then charged with public possession -- possession in plain view -- a misdemeanor.

The NYPD is arresting about a thousand pot smokers a week and has busted more than 350,000 of them during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure in office. This is the same Mayor Bloomberg who once said he smoked marijuana and like it.

Bloomberg's and the NYPD's mass arrest policies cost the city big bucks in a time of economic difficulty. With Levine and his co-author Loren Siegel estimating the cost of arresting and prosecuting each pot possession offender at between $1,000 and $2,000, New York City has spent somewhere between $350 million and $700 million to persecute pot people since Bloomberg has been in office.

"More people have been arrested for marijuana possession under Mayor Bloomberg than under Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Guiliani combined," said Levine at a City Hall news conference Tuesday. "These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed," Levine said.

"Upwards of $75 million have been used to arrest NYC residents for marijuana possession that could have legally been handled with a summons and not a criminal offense," said City Council Member Jumaane Willimas. "This, as we are debating closing our senior centers. In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don't believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional 'pull.'  It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar. I believe there still should be. All of our children are gifts to be nurtured; yet we are losing them to the system at an alarming rate. There must be a better way to deal with drugs in New York City. These arrests are simply about boosting arrest numbers and aren't the answer to our problems," said Williams.

"It is clear that the NYPD's current policy of giving high arrest priority to marijuana enforcement is fiscally wasteful, and has a greater impact on low-income communities where the 'war-on-drugs' has been primarily focused," said Council Member Letitia James. "Although African-Americans only constitute 13% of national of drug users, they make up 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those convicted of drug offenses. It is fair to say that the high priority given to marijuana enforcement directly relates to racial profiling in New York."

"The consequences of an arrest are severe, especially for young people of color who are already disproportionately arrested and incarcerated in juvenile facilities," said Kyung Ji Rhee, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. "Young people of color are targeted, illegally searched and being put through the criminal justice system for possessing or smoking marijuana. Whatever your opinion may be on marijuana, this is no way to treat or teach young people about the choices they make."

"It is beyond hypocritical for the Mayor, who once said he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it, to make arresting young people of color for marijuana possession his top law enforcement priority," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "While cutting services for seniors, youth, housing, transportation, teachers, education, and more, the Mayor spent S75 million last year to arrest over 50,000 people for marijuana possession -- which isn’t even a crime under NY State law. It's just outrageous."

Will Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD see the light? Not without some political heat -- stay tuned.

New York, NY
United States

Los Angeles Voters Asked to Tax Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States
The cash-strapped city of Los Angeles is trying to create a new source of revenue by asking voters to tax medical marijuana dispensaries. Measure M, if approved, would allow to the city to collect $50 out of each $1,000 in "gross reimbursements" that dispensaries receive from their patients. That could generate $10 million a year, which the city can use to pay for basic services such police, libraries and street repairs. "This is something we cannot say 'no' to," Councilwoman Janice Hahn said.
Publication/Source: 
NBC
URL: 
http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/politics/Marijuana-Tax-Los-Angeles-Ballot-Measure-M-117579299.html

Kentucky Cuts Drug Sentences [FEATURE]

Kentucky has become the latest state to enact sentencing reforms in a bid to rein in skyrocketing corrections costs. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) last Thursday signed into law HB 463, a comprehensive corrections bill that will save the state millions of dollars a year, in part by sentencing drug possession offenders to probation instead of prison.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (Image courtesy Gage Bradshaw)
The bill was based on a multi-year collaboration between the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project and state officials. State officials and legislators working with the project convened a Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act and issued a January report that was the basis for the legislation.

"This overhaul of Kentucky's penal code is the result of a multi-year effort involving members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches," said Gov. Beshear. "Over the last three years, we've made headway with aggressive efforts to bring common sense to Kentucky's penal code, and our prison population has dropped each of the past three years. House Bill 463 helps us be tough on crime, while being smart on crime."

The new law calls for sentences of "presumptive probation" for small-time drug possession offenders, meaning they will get probation unless judges can offer a compelling reason why they should go to prison. It also calls for drug treatment to be made available for drug offenders. It reduces penalties for small-time drug dealing while increasing penalties for large-scale trafficking. And it shrinks "drug-free" zones from 1,000 yards to 1,000 feet.

The law also reduces sentences for small-time drug dealing. Sales of less than four grams of cocaine, two grams of heroin or methamphetamine, or 10 dosage units of other controlled substances will be reduced from a Class C felony to a Class D felony.

"Today, if you sell half a gram of rock cocaine, that's a Class C felony," said Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. "When the new law goes into effect in 90 days, you will have to sell more than four grams to get Class C. That means instead of a five-to-ten-year sentence, you'll be looking at one-to-five," he told the Chronicle.

The new law lowers possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor worth up to a year in jail to a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 45 days in jail, if any jail sentence is imposed.

It also requires reforms of the probation and parole system. It will create "graduated sanctions" for parole violators, allowing authorities to impose short jail stays instead of sending them back to prison for technical violations. And it removes drug offenses from consideration when judges impose sentencing enhancements based on previous felony convictions.

Roderer Correctional Complex
Although crime rates have remained steady or dropped, Kentucky's prison population has increased fourfold in the past two decades, from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 now. Drug offenders account for 25% of the prison population, but 38% of inmates admitted since 2000. The state's corrections budget this year is $460 million, and Kentucky is set to save nearly that much over the next decade by implementing the new sentencing structure.

"Of all the problems I inherited, this is one of the most complex," Gov. Beshear said. "In early 2008, I directed Justice & Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown to convene the Criminal Justice Council and report back on recommendations for curbing the rising prison population. That report, and the work of subsequent work groups, provided the groundwork for much of these reforms."

"This bill takes major steps to both decrease recidivism while addressing the unique problems Kentucky faces with substance abuse in ways that absolutely enhance public safety," said Brown.

"House Bill 463 is landmark legislation not only for the positive changes it proposes for our penal code, but also for the manner in which it became law," said Speaker Greg Stumbo. "Anytime you can bring together as many diverse groups as this bill did, and have them agree, you're on to something special. Rep. John Tilley and Sen. Tom Jensen did a tremendous job in getting this bill to the finish line."

"It is the most significant and meaningful piece of legislation that I have had the privilege to work on since being elected to the state legislature," said Sen. Tom Jenson, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I am pleased that the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances is going to continue studying these issues. We have gotten off to a great start and we need to continue working to make things better where we can."

"I'm pleased we're making progress in tackling the problems facing our penal code," Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. "With all three branches involved in this deliberative process, I'm confident that the outcome will be positive for Kentucky."

"Senator Jensen, Representative Tilley, Senate President Williams and House Speaker Stumbo worked across party lines to look at the data and forge a comprehensive package of reforms that will get Kentucky taxpayers a better public safety return on their corrections dollars," said Richard Jerome, project manager of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project. "The legislation employs research-based strategies to reduce recidivism, hold offenders accountable and maximize the state's limited financial resources."

Sentencing reforms are becoming increasingly popular as cash-strapped states face ever increasing budget pressures. South Carolina, Colorado, New York, and Texas are among states that have reformed sentencing and other corrections practices to lower imprisonment rates and save money. Similar efforts are pending in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Sentencing reforms don't end drug prohibition, but they do somewhat reduce its inhumanity and its costs to society, as well as to the people busted for drug offenses. That's a start.

Lexington, KY
United States

Florida Taxpayers Spent Hundreds of Millions Jailing Nonviolent Drug Abusers, Treatment a Less Expensive and More Effective Method

Location: 
FL
United States
Officials across Florida are realizing that in situations where drug offenders are non-violent it would be a better use of limited resources to send them to treatment instead of prison. But, there aren't enough treatment programs and Florida currently houses 19,414 inmates for non-violent drug offenses costing taxpayers $377,971,166 a year. Mary Lynn Ulray, the executive director of a Drug Treatment Program DACCO, says she thinks the legislature is starting to understand there is a cost benefit from drug treatment. Ulray says the agency's 6 month residential program has close to a 70 percent success rate in six months at a cost of $10,000 compare that to the average 6.4 year sentence costing taxpayer $124,601 per offender.
Publication/Source: 
WTSP (FL)
URL: 
http://www.wtsp.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=176960&catid=34

Bill to Lessen Penalties for Some Drug Offenders Clears Kentucky Senate Panel

Location: 
KY
United States
A Kentucky Senate committee has approved legislation aimed at reducing the state’s fast-rising prison population by bolstering drug treatment and alternative sentences for non-violent offenders. The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition. Supporters say the bill would produce net savings of $147 million over 10 years.
Publication/Source: 
The Gleaner (KY)
URL: 
http://www.courierpress.com/news/2011/feb/24/bill-lessen-penalties-some-drug-offenders-clears-k/

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