Analysis of Judicial/Jail Cost of Marijuana Prohibition in Washington State

Wow, the washington state house bill to legalize marijuana has generated some interesting documents that answer some questions i know you have been wondering for a long time. Namely, “How much does it cost taxpayers to  prosecute incarcerate and jail non violent potheads for cannabis posession?”

All text below this line  is an excerpt from the bill’s “fiscal notes”:

SUMMARY OF EXPENDITURE IMPACTS

The proposed legislation may result in significant but indeterminate expenditure reductions for charging and trying fewer misdemeanor and
felony crimes. There is also expected to be a reduction in jail sentences due to fewer misdemeanor convictions. Jail sentences are a local
expense. These reductions may total over $13.5 million annually for fewer arrests, trials, and local jail sentences. Expenditure reductions
include approximately $5,489,100 in felony cases and $8,284,006 in misdemeanor cases.
State Patrol show 8,273 adult arrests in 2008 for possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana and 8,625 for paraphernalia. The cost
of an arrest for similar misdemeanor crimes averages $375.

REDUCTION IN FELONY CASES:
According to the Sentencing Guidelines Commission (SGC), there were 570 felony convictions related to marijuana in 2008. These
convictions were for the manufacturing, delivery, or intent to deliver marijuana. It is unknown how many of these cases were related to the
interstate transport of marijuana, a crime that remains a class C felony in certain circumstances under the proposed legislation. The average
cost for a sentenced felony drug trial is $9,950, including costs for public defenders, prosecuting attorneys, and jail time. Approximately 90
percent of felony drug cases are eligible for public defense. If all 570 felony convictions in 2008 had not been tried and sentences not served,
the reduction in local government expenditures would be $5,489,100 per year [(570 sentences x $9,950 = $5,671,500) – (57 ineligible for public
defense x $3200 = $182,400); $5,671,500 – $182,400 = $5,489,100].
BACKGROUND ON PROSECUTION, DEFENSE, AND JAIL COSTS FOR FELONY CRIMES:
Prosecution: The average cost for prosecuting a felony drug crime is approximately $3,102 per case (2009 LGFN prosecutor survey).
Public defender costs: Approximately 90% of felony cases qualify for public defender representation. The average cost for public felony drug
defense representation is approximately $3,200 per case (2008 LGFN defender survey).
Jail costs: Some sentences for felony crimes are served in jail (a local cost). According to the SGC, the average sentence for this crime served
in jail is 48 days. There were 570 jail sentences served in 2008 for felonies related to marijuana. The daily jail bed rate is $76, according to the
LGFN 2009 jail cost survey (weighted by population). The cost of a sentence would be $3,648 (48 days x $76 a day = $3,648).
The combined reduction in costs for each felony not charged, prosecuted, defended, sentenced, and jail time not served is $9,950 ($3,102
prosecution + $3,200 defense + $3,648 jail costs = $9,950).
REDUCTION IN MISDEMEANOR CASES:
According to AOC, there were 3,286 adult convictions in 2010 for possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana. The number of drug
paraphernalia cases specifically related to marijuana is unknown. Under this legislation, there will be no misdemeanor charges for possession
of less than 40 grams of marijuana.
It is possible to estimate the expenditure reductions associated with fewer adult misdemeanor cases for possession of marijuana; it is not
possible to estimate the expenditure reductions associated with a reduction in paraphernalia cases. If all misdemeanor cases in 2010 for
possession of less than 40 grams of marijuana had not been tried and sentences not served, the reduction in local government expenditures
would be $8,284,006 (3,286 cases x $2,521 per case = $8,284,006).
BACKGROUND ON PROSECUTION, DEFENSE, AND JAIL COSTS FOR MISDEMEANOR CRIMES:
Prosecution: The average cost for prosecuting a misdemeanor crime is approximately $983 per case (2009 LGFN prosecutor survey).
Public defender costs: Approximately 93 percent of misdemeanor cases qualify for public defender representation. The range of public
defender representation is approximately $935 to $1,473 per case, for an average cost of $1,204 (LGFN 2010 indigent defender data).
Jail costs: A person convicted of a misdemeanor would serve their sentence in jail (a local cost). It is not clear what the average sentence for
this crime would be. According to the AOC 2009 misdemeanor convictions table the average jail sentence for possession of marijuana of less
than 40 grams was 82.7 days, with all but 4.4 days suspended. The daily jail bed rate is $76, according to the LGFN 2009 jail cost survey
(weighted by population). The cost of a sentence would be $365 (4.4 days x $76 a day = $334).
The combined reduction in costs for each misdemeanor not charged, prosecuted, defended, sentenced, and jail time not served is $2,552
($983 prosecution + $1,204 defense + $334 jail = $2,521).

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So, you want to know how much it costs annually for the entire united states to prosecute these offenders? Here are the numbers up to 2010 of prosecutions nationwide for marijuana possession. I’ll leave the math up to you!

 

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UPDATE: Washington state published a fiscal impact statement regarding the passing of Initiative 502 which legalized recreational marijuana posession as of December 6, 2012

 

Hope this helps!

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