Criminal Justice Costs of Prohibiting Marijuana in California

Published in: Something's in the Air: Race, Crime, and the Legalization of Marijuana / edited by Katherine Tate, James Lance Taylor, and Mark Q. Sawyer (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.), Chapter 1, p. 13-30

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Beau Kilmer

A common argument for legalizing marijuana is that it would save the criminal justice system time and resources; however, there is a lot of uncertainty about how many resources are dedicated to prohibiting marijuana. For California, the existing estimates range from $200 million to almost $2 billion a year. This chapter assesses these previous efforts and describes a bottom-up approach to estimate the criminal justice costs of prohibiting marijuana in California. Since most legalization proposals keep marijuana illegal for those under 21 (a group that accounts for roughly 45% of all marijuana arrests in California), we only estimate the costs associated with prohibiting marijuana for those 21 and older. This chapter finds that enforcing marijuana prohibition against adults cost the California criminal justice system approximately $150 million in 2010. Since SB 1449 went into effect on January 1, 2011 and eliminated bookings and court cases for those caught with less than one ounce of marijuana, these 2010 figures may overstate the current cost of prohibiting marijuana for adults in California.

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