In my last post, I noted promising support for marijuana legalization initiatives this fall. Still, outside libertarian circles, there unfortunately isn’t the political will to support a broader repeal of our federal and state drug laws.
Before you say it: No, drug legalization will not solve our mass incarceration problem. Not all by itself, anyway; the numbers just don’t add up. You can see that for yourself at the Urban Institute’s web-based prison population forecaster. As the Urban Institute notes,
While dramatically reducing the national prison population requires addressing the hard stuff—like long prison sentences and time served for violent offenses—reforms to drug laws and revocation policies will still go a long way in many states.
For example, nonviolent offenses are a major driver of the prison population in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, so sending fewer people to prison for drug and property crimes would have a big impact on incarceration rates. Halving drug admissions would cut the prison population by nearly 10 percent in each of those states by the end of 2021. And a 50 percent reduction in admissions for all nonviolent crimes would cut at least a quarter off their populations (nearly a third in Kentucky).
For good or ill, the Urban Institute doesn’t consider libertarians’ first-best solution, which is of course the full legalization of all drugs. Libertarians support this policy not just because it would help empty the prisons, but because it’s your body, and it’s your right to choose what goes into it.
These propositions are obvious to us; if only they were more obvious to others. But as the success of marijuana legalization becomes increasingly apparent, I hope that a fuller legalization, also once laughed at, will come to be taken more seriously.