Jacob Sullum

Continuing to look at this from a consumer's perspective, we need to consider not just the law enforcement money saved by the state of California (around $300 million a year, according to RAND), but the arrest-related costs that pot smokers no longer have to bear. About 75,000 people are arrested on marijuana charges in California each year, the vast majority for simple possession. While they typically do not spend much time behind bars, they face legal expenses and the lifelong handicap of a criminal record, costs that may dwarf the money spent on enforcement.

Those costs fall disproportionately on black people. A recent study by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine found that blacks in California's 25 largest counties are two to four times as likely as whites to be busted for marijuana possession, even though survey data indicate they are no more likely to smoke pot. The California NAACP cited these racially skewed numbers when it endorsed Proposition 19.

Public Safety First, of course, does not care what happens to pot smokers, whom it depicts as public menaces. But since research indicates that marijuana does not impair driving ability nearly as much as alcohol does, more pot smoking, if accompanied by less drinking, could actually improve public safety. The legal availability of a less dangerous intoxicant would benefit the general public as well as consumers.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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