Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Price of pot

Interesting column in the Lincoln Journal Star this morning by Cindy Lange-Kubick, advocating that Nebraska follow our neighbor to the west, Colorado, in completely legalizing the possession of marijuana for personal use, and it's sale.

One of the arguments often put forth for such proposals is to reduce the impact of arrests for small amounts on pot on criminal justice resources: police, prosecutors, courts, and corrections. The columnist actually contacted me and asked for my estimate of what those costs are in Lincoln. I suppose I'm qualified as anyone to proffer such a guess, and I estimated about $150,000 per year for the roughly 1,500 tickets LPD issues for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana--$100 per case.

My estimate was based on the time involved, which I pegged at about 20 minutes. That may not sound like much, but the vast majority of marijuana tickets are secondary to some other charge. You arrest a speeder who has an outstanding warrant from a prior traffic ticket, and find a doobie in his jacket, or a shoplifter with a stash in her purse, or a drunk driver with a baggie in his pants pocket. As a result, the additional time involved is short. Very few of these cases go to trial a fact I confirmed with a call to our chief City prosecutor.

The reason the price of pot enforcement in Lincoln is low is simply this: Nebraska decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot fully 35 years ago, turning the offense into a civil infraction. In our State, a first offense for possession of less than an ounce is an infraction punishable only by a fine, not to exceed $300. That's less serious than many traffic tickets. It may be hard for people to believe, but up until legalization in Colorado, Nebraska had the most liberal law in the land for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

You can make all sorts of arguments for legalization of small amounts of pot for personal use, but in Nebraska, I don't think you can make a convincing argument that it will significantly reduce law enforcement expenditures. In fact, I worry that the opposite is true. If you drop infraction-level offense entirely, and make the sale of marijuana legal, I suspect that we will see a whole slew of new laws to regulate the enterprise.

It will continue to be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, and we'll add such things as procuring pot for minors, smoking pot in parks, selling pot without a license, selling pot without remitting the requisite taxes, smoking pot indoors other than private residences, minor in possession of pot, furnishing pot to an intoxicated person, offering for sale brownies in excess of the allowable level of THC, selling pot within the R1 zoning districts, and so forth--the same kinds of laws that exist today to regulate alcohol and cigarettes. We will then expect the constables to enforce this forest of regulations--just as we do with alcohol and tobacco.

Do what you will, but don't bank on saving the time and effort of law enforcement officers as the rationale, if the proposition is to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. We already did that during the era of cassette tapes and polyester leisure suits.


Tom Casady said...

BTW, the math would be different if you go whole hog and decriminalize the manufacture and sale of marijuana, and possession of large amounts, as those felony-level cases are more labor intensive.

Anonymous said...

I see the whole idea of "legalized" pot as a lesser of two evils. We faced similar problems when the Volstead act was passed bringing about Prohibition. The big difference in legalizing Pot and legalizing Alcohol is that back in the bootleg booze days Alcohol was the MAJOR recreational drug and there were few choices.

Today even if we legalize Pot there will be other drugs the recreational users will do instead. Ending Prohibition and legalizing Alcohol put Al Capone and other bootleggers out of business So even if Pot is legalized the criminal element involved in getting Pot to the street will just switch to something else.

Personally I would prefer to be around a person high on Pot rather than a drunk. It has been my experience that Potheads are usually mellower than drunks. Ideally nobody would use either Alcohol or Marijuana but we don't live in a perfect world.
Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

So if it isn't really such a big deal and the state already has relaxed laws on about it then why not just decriminalize small amounts like a eighth of a ounce or under?

Anonymous said...

Everyone compares legalizing pot with doing away with prohibition. The big difference is alcohol was legal before it was prohibited so people were more used to being able to legally partake.

I don't really have a point other than that. I'm not a robot.

Anonymous said...

You might want to do some research on the timeline of when MJ became illegal. If I remember correctly it had been legal up until about 1930(?) but I'm not sure. Someone made a movie called "Reefer Madness" in the early 1900 somethings. Shortly after that movie came out MJ was made illegal.
I may not be totally accurate so I hope someone with more time can do the googling.
Gun Nut

11:14 said...

Still apples and oranges.

Anonymous said...

So why didn't the alcohol bootleggers etc. switch to something else like pot ? Marijuana was completely legal before 1937. Legal, then prohibited just like alcohol. Alcohol causes murder(by car or other), assault(physical/sexual), and overdose as well as many other ills associated with physical addiction.There is no legal alternative. Marijuana is only mentally addictive, which may occur with just about anything (sex, chocolate) including simple actions. Marijuana is safer than alcohol, so why are they driving us to drink? I can't/don't think when I drink. Lincoln citizen

Anonymous said...

"BTW, the math would be different if you go whole hog and decriminalize the manufacture and sale of marijuana, and possession of large amounts, as those felony-level cases are more labor intensive."

that's why we want it legalized, to put those people out of business and get this economy off the black market and into the public coffers there is also the fact that when it's illegal you tend to fear the police, attitudes toward the police may change as less will have something to hide, not to mention that there may be a pothead or twenty out there that could all of a sudden be a GREAT candidate to become an officer or firefighter

Tom Casady said...


You and a couple other readers seem to want to turn this into a discussion of the merits of legalization. That's fine, but not my point. I'm simply saying this: if the rationale for legalization is to reduce the resource burden on police departments, I think that is quite unlikely. I am concerned that we will instead be handed an entirely new regulatory scheme and expected to execute that, without the resources to do so. That seems to be one of the chief complaints of Colorado agencies.

Anonymous said...

the rationale for legalization is to not have the people that choose to smoke weed be criminals, we want our freedom if it means more laws for the police to enforce, then so be it!

I'd rather have a legal mechanism for selling and distributing weed than the system that we have now, when you are already committing a crime selling weed, do you care that your customer is only 15? that your money spent is going to some third world country to finance corruption, theft, violence? or that your rental house got destroyed by someone setting up a grow room?

the police work for the citizens of this country, all of us, doing the peoples bidding the whole us vs. them attitude some in the police career field have is a problem and certainly doesn't help you do your jobs

Anonymous said...

Even if it does increase the resource burden to police (which I think would be a wash anyway), it would be FAR outweighed by the tax revenue and new economic commercial stream. It's a whole new crop for farmers to grow.

Anonymous said...

They're not getting your point, Tom, which is clearly a pre-emptive warning of a big unfunded mandate on local law enforcement for all the regs that go along with legalization--exactly what the locals are trying to cope with in Colorado.

If you're going to legalize weed, you've got to send a fair share of all that new tax revenue back down to the people who really have to deal with it at the local level.

Tom Casady said...


Well, yes, it would be a preemptive warning if there were actually such a proposal on the table. For now, though, I just want to make it clear that regardless of what justifications you might use for legalization, reducing the burden on the police is not la very good one from what I've seen. I would anticipate more, not less, resources being consumed in my corner of the system.

Arthur Andreas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well as I have been saying for 30 years, legalization will come when the Baby Boomers get into office.
You will NOT stop people from smoking pot, EVER. Why not let Nebraska make money and produce more jobs? MJ is not a horrible thing unless it is laced with other bad chemicals. What about cigars and cigarettes. Talk about chemicals.
I am not a smoker but I do believe it will take us out of the deficit yesterday if we do legalize it.