Marijuana prohibition costs Pa. too much in ruined lives and unnecessary expense
March 5, 2013By Aja Beech
The following is a work of opinion as submitted by the author.
In late January 2012, Justin, a Fishtown resident, was going about his typical day remodeling a home he shared. He was also selling weed.
"They broke the door down, they were screaming — it was so crazy," Justin said of the moment when the police raided the house. "They told us all to get down on the floor."
As they lay on the floor, the police overturned all the furniture and literally tore down the ceilings and walls. They found nothing more than the marijuana and money that was out in plain sight.
Sitting in the police station with them later that day was a man the police picked up coming out of the house just before the raid. He was in a cell with them crying.
"He has a wife and baby daughter," Justin recounted as one of the more painful aspects of the encounter. "I felt really bad."
That man left Justin's house with about three grams of marijuana. He was released the same day he was arrested. Justin and his roommate spent 10 days in a Philadelphia jail and saw charges of marijuana distribution and criminal conspiracy.
In the year that passed, they saw three court dates come and go, in which the city was never able to present its case. The charges against them were eventually dropped.
These neighbors completely renovated the bus stop area in front of their home, helped install a bike rack for public use, and were primary organizers for their local block party every summer.
"We just got the bathroom together now," Justin said on the phone last week, standing in the home he is still rebuilding a year after police tore down the ceilings and walls.
"Lives are being destroyed by prohibition," says Senator Daylin Leach. That's the motivation behind SB 528, The Regulate Marijuana Act. "25,000 people are arrested because of [simple possession of] weed" every year in Pennsylvania, Leach pointed out.
Leach says Pennsylvania could save upwards of $325 million every year by not pursuing and arresting people for possession of marijuana under current law — and, further, taxing the sale of marijuana could bring in $24 million of revenue each year.
But legalization is about much more than any financial savings within the justice system or financial earnings through taxation. The bill, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use only, includes the ability to grow a specific amount of marijuana plants at a single residence. For Leach this represents an aspect of safety: understanding what you are getting and where you are getting it.
The bill would also encourage upward economic mobility, allowing people to save money by growing their own marijuana, and help the state solve its incarceration problems by reconsidering aspects of criminalization.
Since 1980, the prison population in Pennsylvania has increased over 500 percent, and it is estimated that 55 percent of that growth was directly from "nonviolent drug and property crime." This trend of increasing incarceration is something Governor Corbett seems to be investing in at this juncture, with the new state budget making the deepest cuts in education while increasing prison spending as much as 11 percent.
When so many lives are being destroyed in Pennsylvania, Leach's Regulate Marijuana Bill represents a little green seed of hope for Pennsylvania's future.