One of the most compelling reasons for legalizing marijuana is that it would free up a lot of resources otherwise needed to catch, jail and prosecute marijuana-related offenders. Imagine a police force that would be freed from the responsibility of busting marijuana users and instead be able to focus their energies and resources on more serious crimes. Or perhaps, freeing up the courts from having to hear marijuana-related cases.
The State of Virginia is proof that prosecuting cases against marijuana users, and the subsequent jail time, is costing the state more than its worth. Over the past decade, Virginia’s police force has arrested at least 133,000 people on marijuana possession charges. Every year, around 10,000 people are convicted and jailed for possessing marijuana for the first time. By July 2017, there were close to 130 people in jail for marijuana.
All in all, the 127 people in jail are already costing Virginia’s good taxpayers at least $10,000 per day.
In Virginia, first time marijuana offenders are sentenced to up to a month in jail and they would have to pay a $500 fine. Out of these 127 people, only 31 people have been charged and convicted in court. Around 96 of these offenders are still waiting for their court date.
Quantifying the cost of jailing first-time marijuana offenders
The cost associated with jailing somebody on a marijuana-related charge is $79.28. So assume that all of the 10,000 people are all first-time offenders and were convicted to 30 days in jail, that would have cost taxpayers $23.8 million a year.
How big is that? It would pay the salaries of the state’s office of education’s administrative and support services staff salaries for the next 35 years. It would fund the operations for the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind for two years. It would pay for the tuition of all college scholars at the Christopher Newport University for close to four years, or the financial assistance programs at the College of William and Mary in Virginia for close to a year. It will also be enough to pay for the budget earmarked for crime victims compensation for close to four years.
Around half that amount would also be enough to pay for the 2016 budget for the capital project expenses of these offices: Office of Agrigulture and Forestry, the Office of Commerce and Trade, the Office of Natural Resources, and the Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Yet, the state of Virginia is using that money to jail first-time marijuana offenders. It also spends more money and resources to catch people possessing marijuana and to try them in court.
The good news is that Virginia is taking steps to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The Commonwealth of Virginia showed that 78% of Virginians wanted to lower the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana, making it a misdemeanor. This was especially true for the younger respondents, the African American sector, and the Democrats. Moreover, 62% of the respondents said that marijuana should be legal even for recreational use.
And the government is listening. The state’s Crime Commission has gathered close to 4,000 written comments from the public on the issue of marijuana legalization, and at least 97% of these supported the initiative.
In fact, all the statistics cited above came from the commission’s report on marijuana decriminaliztiong, which is seen to be a step towards the state’s initiative to come up with legislation that would decriminalize marijuana possession.
If it does happen, the Commonwealth of Virginia would be able to free up more than $23 million a year that is used to keep first time marijuana offenders in jail for something else. Add to that the people who are caught for the second time, the court-related expenses, and the expenses of the police force.