Artur Davis‘ First Response
I think that Jonathan’s argument regarding medical marijuana–versus social use of marijuana– is a tougher one to resolve, but I’m still inclined toward the view that legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes is easy to do in theory, hard to do in fact. Jason Atkinson is dead-on, in my view, about the abuses and subterfuges that will spring up if the door to legalization is opened at all.
As for Jonathan’s observations regarding the resources spent on minor drug prosecutions, it’s a quite serious point. I would repeat my earlier sentiments that marijuana prosecutions remain an area of disparity and uneven unforcement. I would even go so far as to endorse the experiment in some jurisdictions of considering drug possession cases in special drug courts, where the focus is treatment and avoiding recidivism rather than incarceration.
Where I would differ is the conclusion that marijuana cases, possession or trafficking, consume much of the current effort in drug enforcement. My recollection, albeit nine years out of date, was that federal drug task forces, outside special cases like California and Texas, rarely targeted marijuana; there was far more bang for the buck–literally in the asset forfeiture context–in cocaine and meth rings.
The marijuana cases that emerged were, candidly, often off of traffic stops, where the shipment fell in the hands of unsuspecting cops. Legalizing marijuana might provide some comfort to states facing prison overcrowding issues, but not much, given that so few of these cases result in imprisonment.
I would end with a place that Jonathan and I likely agree. Returning to the disparity issue, it is true that young minority defendants are more prone to take guilty pleas on minor drug charges that could be contested, and more likely to cop to felonies than misdemeanors. The failure here lies in the criminal law inexperience of appointed lawyers in many jurisdictions, a problem the Supreme Court has acknowledged, and its consequences are real even when no jail time is handed out. Too many minorities are left with felony convictions that disenfranchise them and make them unemployable. Remedying that system defect is a better cause, in my judgment, than legalizing marijuana.