Pubdate: Fri, 12 Sep 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Source: Drug War Chronicle
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor


Study Looks at Implications of Legalization in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a $3 billion state budget deficit, Gov. Mitt Romney
and the legislature are battling over multi-million cuts in education
funding, and heroin users are dying at a record pace while tight times
shrink the number of treatment beds by half. The Bay State budget,
like those of about 40 other states, has been hit hard by tough
economic times and could use some help. Boston University economist
Dr. Jeffrey Miron has a simple, if only partial, solution: Legalize

In a study commissioned by the Massachusetts-based marijuana reform
advocacy group Change the Climate (
and released September 5, Miron reported that legalizing marijuana in
Massachusetts would save the state as much as $138 million per year.
That translates to the salary equivalent of about 2,300 Massachusetts
police, firefighters, or teachers. The report, "The Budgetary
Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Massachusetts," estimates
that the state could save $120.6 million in criminal justice costs by
regularizing the herb and generate an additional $16.9 million in tax
revenues on the legalized pot commerce.

Miron does not delve into the pros or cons of marijuana prohibition --
only the budgetary impact. In the study's executive summary, he
writes, "The report is not an overall evaluation of marijuana
prohibition; the magnitude of any budgetary impacts does not by itself
determine the wisdom of prohibition. But the costs required to enforce
prohibition, and the transfers that occur because income generated in
the marijuana sector is not taxed, are relevant to rational discussion
of this policy."

And Miron parses those costs and transfers carefully, albeit with a
relatively simple and conservative set of assumptions. For instance,
to determine police costs in enforcing marijuana prohibition, Miron
calculated the number of marijuana arrests, their percentage of all
arrests, and the cost per arrest for police agencies. He discounted
two-thirds of all marijuana arrests as not "stand alone," or being
arrests where other criminal behavior was the cause of arrest. Still,
the study found that Massachusetts law enforcement agencies spend
$40.3 million just to arrest pot smokers and dealers.

"We looked at the reduction in expenditures in criminal justice
activities that would result from legalizing marijuana," Miron told
DRCNet. "We also estimated the tax revenues Massachusetts would earn
if marijuana sales were legalized and taxed, providing that the
federal government would ever allow it. "We could save about $120
million in criminal justice spending and gain those tax revenues.
That's a lot of money."

The state could also save $13.6 million spent by the Dept. of
Corrections on the 10 people housed in state prison and 575 sentenced
to County Corrections on marijuana charges. That money could go a long
way toward restoring $23 million in cuts to Massachusetts school
districts affected by charter school enrollments. State Sen. David
Magnani (D-Framingham), following a parallel path, has offered a
budget amendment that would get that money back to the school
districts by giving judges the ability to release nonviolent offenders
who have served half their sentences.

Or the $68.5 million that the Massachusetts judiciary and
prosecutorial systems spend enforcing marijuana prohibition could take
care of it, and then some. And that, according to Miron, is only
counting felony marijuana convictions, not the misdemeanors that clog
the system.

For all the exciting budgetary implications of his report, Miron has
not gotten much attention so far, nor, he said, were legislators ready
to repeal prohibition. "There is not a lot of interest yet," he said,
"a small story in the Boston Herald and the local NPR affiliate, WBUR,
but it is starting to percolate," he said. "As for the legislature,
well, there's not a lot of movement. I've talked to these guys lots of
times, and I have the feeling that they think it would be perfectly
okay to legalize it, but they fear their voters wouldn't go for it."

In recent elections, Massachusetts voters in districts across the
state have endorsed decriminalization or legalization proposals, but
legislators still weren't sure, Miron said. "The ballot questions were
non-binding and it was an off-year election, so it is hard for them to
tell how representative those votes were. Still, you would think this
would be a relatively receptive state."

Change the Climate, the group which commissioned Miron's study, is
working to make the state even more receptive. The group, which has
done innovative marijuana legalization ad campaigns in Boston and
Washington, DC, is gearing up a new round of ads aimed at Bay State
voters. Unfortunately, the campaign got off to a rocky (if
subsequently well-publicized) start this week when its first billboard
included a photo of a real life Massachusetts State Trooper. The
trooper and his troop objected, and the billboard company, which
inadvertently used the wrong photo, replaced the ad. But more are coming.

And given Miron's results, could this weekend's pro-pot Freedom Rally
on Boston Commons hear the rallying cry of fiscal conservatism?

Visit to read
the study in its entirety online, and visit
to view their ads and other information. Visit
for information about the Freedom Rally. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake