A single prosecution can easily run more than $1 million -- all to send an empty message about federal drug laws and hand the market share over to a less savory purveyor.
When Matthew R. Davies was growing and selling medical marijuana in California, the 34-year-old father of two "hired accountants, compliance lawyers, managers, a staff of 75 and a
payroll firm. He paid California sales tax and filed for state and local
business permits," the New York Times reports. Unfortunately for him, federal agents raided his business, and "the United States attorney for the Eastern District of California,
Benjamin B. Wagner, a 2009 Obama appointee, wants Mr. Davies to agree to
a plea that includes a mandatory minimum of five years in prison." Let's set the legal questions aside and think through the costs of this course:
- The opportunity cost of focusing on other crimes
- $235,000 in incarceration costs
- Two young girls with an absent father
- Substantial lost tax revenue from his operation
- Other marijuana sellers going underground
- Less savory drug dealers, including violent cartels, getting more business
- More of a hassle for sick medical marijuana patients to get their prescription filled
Doesn't that seem awfully "expensive" when the only real benefit is sending the message that you can't get away with openly flouting federal drug laws? If that's the biggest benefit you can plausibly claim, isn't that a sign that the law should change? After all, it isn't as if anyone believes that sending Davies to jail is going to make victory in the drug war any more plausible. Or appreciably decrease the number of people smoking marijuana. Or even significantly diminish the supply, since there's always another person growing on the black market.
All casualties are purposeless when you're fighting an unwinnable war.
Later in the article, we learn that "two of Mr. Davies's co-defendants are pleading guilty, agreeing to five-year minimum terms, to avoid stiffer sentences." Wow. So the federal government thinks it's worth investing more than a million dollars to shut down this particular operation. Maybe you're sympathetic to marijuana legalization, or maybe you're against it. Regardless, could you spend that $1 million-plus better? Could you spend it in a way that saved more lives or created more happiness or resulted in more justice meted out than jailing these three?