Thursday, September 16, 2010

State Prison Population Declines for the First Time in 40 Years

This is a little bit of good news. The total prison population went up last year, because there are more federal prisoners.

The boom in prisoners comes mostly from imprisoning drug dealers. I am all for imprisoning people who commit crimes, and drug dealers, as a group are vile.

Still, I think we should legalize marijuana and tax it heavily. In fact, I would be happy to dedicate the pot tax to fighting the really bad drugs - there seems a certain poetic justice in that. If we extract marijuana from the war on drugs, we can devote our prisons to the worse criminals.


Brendan said...

The tricky thing about the definition of "drug dealers" is that the police decide who's a dealer and who's not. If you get picked up with marijuana on your person or in your car and you're white, you get charged with possession, which is worth a fine and probation. A black person with the same amount would almost invariably get charged with intent to distribute, a much stiffer penalty. Who's the dealer?

Reducing the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity as Obama did earlier this year is a good start, and taxing and legalizing marijuana would be another. The latter is already underway, behind the flimsy veil of medical distribution, out here. But neither changes the fundamental nature of problematic police work. The graph here says it all:

Whit said...

Hey Gruntled, welcome to the libertarian contingent.

It's a tough call, but given the fact that pot provides much of the funding for Mexican drug cartels, the problem with inconsistent enforcement, the number of incarcerations, the harm a drug conviction can cause to a young life, and our current legal treatment of alcohol, I think I agree with you. But you can’t make the taxes so high that you create a black market for the newly legalized substance as has happened with tobacco in states like New York. That would defeat the purpose of legalization as it would bring the cartels back into business.

Now that you have put your toe into libertarian waters, I’d be interested in your opinion about business licensing schemes for such things as tour guides. The Institute for Justice (IJ) has just filed suit against a DC licensing scheme for, of all things, tour guides based on First Amendment grounds. Certainly the freedom of the guides to speak is an issue, particularly where there is no good reason for licensing guides to begin with. But worse, every time you have these schemes, there need to be government employees to administer them (paid by taxpayers) and incumbents in the industry (tour companies) who are protected by limiting the number of freelance guides which allow the incumbents to raise prices. The examples are legion. In many places you can’t sell a casket unless you are a licensed undertaker, giving them oligopoly pricing power. Similarly, in Chicago, you can’t sell flowers on the street without a license again giving pricing power to established florists with business locations. There were laws, some of which I helped overturn, prohibiting people from selling wallpaper over the phone unless they had a local “showroom”. In each case the license requirement or other restriction serves no purpose other than to employ government workers and protect industry incumbents.

Brendan said...

The idea that legalizing and heavily taxing marijuana is essentially libertarian is really funny.

molly said...

Brendan I find your liberal knee jerk reaction to all topics especially on race politics amusing. I live in an inner city neighbourhood and we are not happy about lower penalties for crack cocaine.