Pubdate: Tue, 21 Apr 2009
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2009 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Mike Seate


On April 10, two brothers from Moon were charged with smuggling pot. 
The operation was not run out of dinky dorm rooms, either.

U.S. Attorney Rodger Heaton of Illinois charged Noah Landfried, 24, 
and Ross Landfried, 27, with bringing more than a ton of weed into 
the United States from Mexico, and selling it.

The pot, the feds say, reached the streets via their family home in 
Moon, where the Landfrieds allegedly broke down their shipments into 
convenient, one-pound blocks for distribution.

The government alleges the dealers made a small fortune.

To me, the most disturbing part of this case isn't the alleged use of 
couriers to ferry the drugs across the border, or how many man-hours 
the feds invested to catch these guys.

No, the real cost of this case will come to taxpayers many years down the line.

According to mandatory sentencing guidelines, the brothers face 
penalties of 10 years to life in prison, time that doesn't come 
cheaply. The cost of imprisoning a convict runs around $32,000 per 
year, so that would mean $640,000 for two 10-year terms, or $3.8 
million in taxpayer dollars if they get life and live for another 60 
years each.

Argue all you will about whether marijuana is a so-called "gateway 
drug" that leads users on a downward spiral to harder narcotics or 
whether it remains illegal because of a powerful alcohol lobby. The 
truth is, we can't afford to keep spending so much money locking up 
nonviolent criminals.

Unfortunately, it could take years for us to wake up.  There is, 
after all, a booming incarceration industry whose building blocks are 
long-term imprisonment of drug sellers.

A recent study by Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia says one of every 31 
adult Americans is either in prison, in jail or on supervised 
release. We incarcerate our citizens at five times the rate of the 
rest of the world, costing us $68 billion per year.

Last year, nearly half of all arrests in the country were for pot 
offenses, and 60 percent of those in state prisons for drug offenses 
were nonviolent offenders with no prior records, his study said.

The problem has become so dire that Webb has introduced legislation 
to create a national incarceration commission, charged with studying 
our thirst for filling jail cells.

Some pot advocates say the tide might be turning.  Several states are 
considering softening of medical marijuana laws.

But I'll bet we'll finally legalize pot when it becomes too expensive 
to keep on throwing users and sellers in jail. 
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