The Louisiana Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to uphold an 18-year prison sentence for a man named Gary Howard, who was convicted for being caught with 18 grams of marijuana.
For those, like me, who are not so well-informed about drug quantities, that’s less than one ounce.
So for possessing a pile of weed around the size of a pack of cards, Howard is going to lose a quarter of his life, assuming he hits the average American male life expectancy of 76 years.
That’s ridiculous and inhumane, but he’s not the only one losing. One judge, Bernette Johnson, wrote a dissenting opinion in which she explained how Louisiana taxpayers are losing out too:
“As a practical matter, in light of the inconsequential amount of marijuana found, imprisoning defendant for this extreme length of time at a cost of about $23,000 per year (costing our state over $400,000 in total) provides little societal value and only serves to further burden our financially strapped state and its tax payers.”
$400,000! That’s an awfully high price to pay for ruining a life over a victimless “crime.”
There are a lot of good reasons to end the failed war on drugs, and, as this case shows, basic fiscal conservatism is definitely one of them. Our government has spent more than $1.5 trillion since 1970 trying to prevent people from doing drugs — at this point, we’re dropping as much as $51 billion each year (split among all federal, state, and local government) — and yet still paying through the nose to lock up people like Gary Howard for no good reason.