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Opinion: Legalizing Marijuana Would End War on NJ's Minority Communities

As for those who may remain indifferent to these appeals to civil rights and justice, they would do well to consider the economic cost to taxpayers. According to data collected by the National Drug Policy Alliance (NDPA), U.S. taxpayers annually shell out in excess of $51 billion arresting and prosecuting 1,550,000 people for various nonviolent drug charges. And that sum does not include the annual cost to incarcerate those sentenced to time behind bars, estimated at $30,000 - 40,000 per inmate.

Not only could these public funds be far better spent on real priorities -- such as repairing our nation’s sagging infrastructure -- the nation is missing out on lost revenues. “If currently illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco,” estimated the NPDA, it would amount to $46.7 billion. When you add the direct cost of continuing to fight the unwinnable war on drugs to the missing tax revenues, there’s the tidy sum of $97.7 billion in yearly tax dollars wasted.

Which brings us back to Scutari’s legislation (not yet introduced as of this writing). What are the prospects it will pass any time soon? Probably not great, mostly due to likely political opposition from self-styled conservative legislators. Have a Scotch on the rocks after work? Fine by them, if not taken to excess. But let a black man get caught with a single marijuana joint and it’s a one-way ticket into the criminal justice system.

It’s time for conservatives, mostly Republicans, to apply their anti-government rhetoric and pro-freedom philosophy intelligently. If so, they would quickly climb aboard the legalization band wagon and push for it to become law. It makes no sense for them to oppose strict environmental regulation of energy sources needed to protect this threatened planet from the consequences of global climate change while also supporting the war on drugs.

So we might ask reluctant lawmakers: Why should government continue its costly and failed effort to control a person’s choice of recreational drug, and do so by reserving punishment largely to young black, Hispanic and poor youth who are singled out for enforcement?

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