Enforcing Washington’s marijuana laws cost taxpayers more than $211 million in the past decade, according to a study released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.
Using public records, the ACLU compiled costs from 2000-2010 in each of Washington’s 39 counties for marijuana-related arrests, prosecution, defense, court expenses, incarceration and community supervision.
The way the ACLU calculated it, Pierce County spent more than $21 million during the decade on marijuana crimes. In the study, that figure was topped only by King County, which spent $35 million.
The study results were immediately trashed by criminal justice officials in Pierce County, who called them misleading and designed to promote Initiative 502, which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana use by adults.
“You’d have to be stoned to buy some of these numbers,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “This is math with an agenda.”
Lindquist said the study used prosecution costs for cases in which marijuana was only tangential to larger offenses that would have been prosecuted anyway.
“There may be legitimate arguments for legalizing marijuana,” Lindquist said, “but significant cost savings is not one of them.”
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor had similar criticisms, saying that while he had not had time to study the ACLU’s methodology, the arrest and jail costs appeared to include more serious crimes in which marijuana possession was a relatively insignificant factor.
The ACLU supports Initiative 502 and argues that the tax money spent on marijuana offenses would be better spent on other priorities.
“ACLU of Washington advocates for a more public-health view of drugs versus a criminalization approach,” said Mark Cooke, ACLU’s Washington drug policy advocate and the primary study researcher.
Cooke said the study was unrelated to the 502 campaign.
“This is more about education,” he said. “I think everybody knows we spend a lot of money on marijuana offenses, but until now, nobody really knew how much.”
In the study, Pierce County’s marijuana expenses roughly paralleled the state average on per capita basis. Pierce County has approximately 11 percent of the state population, and marijuana expenses here came to 10 percent of the state total.
King County’s marijuana expenses were much less on a per capita basis. With about 30 percent of the state population, King County spent only 17 percent of the state total on marijuana offenses.
A voter approved initiative in September 2003 directed the Seattle police and city attorney’s office to make marijuana offenses the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority.
Tacoma voters passed a similar initiative but not until 2011, which was after the study period.
According to the ACLU’s numbers, the most expensive category of spending in Pierce County was $6.9 million spent on arrests of marijuana offenders.
The ACLU study includes an interactive online map (www.aclu-wa.org/blog/mjmap) with cost breakdowns for each email@example.com