Cost of Marijuana Prohibition on the California Criminal Justice System

by Jonathan P. Caulkins

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This paper estimates the current cost of enforcing marijuana laws in California, both in total and for those 21 and over, and contrast these estimates with those of Gieringer (2009) and Miron (2005, 2010). The primary method is simply combining official estimates of numbers of activities (e.g., arrests) with unit cost estimates from the literature. The estimates are rough since unit costs are rarely marijuana- or even California-specific. Nevertheless, the calculations suggest that total costs probably do not much exceed $300 million, with perhaps one-fifth of those costs associated with defendants under the age of 21. These estimates are far below the roughly $1B in savings some predict from marijuana legalization in California, and it is worth noting that savings – in the sense of reduced spending – could be smaller than current enforcement costs if freed resources are reallocated to enforcement against other crimes, rather than being "rebated" to the taxpayer.

The research in this report was conducted by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.

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