Corporatism — May 22, 2013 at 6:54 am

A 2-step plan to end the failed War on Drugs: Expand Medicaid and end marijuana prohibition


The war is over, if you want it

3578289544_1103e55158Republicans don’t mention this as they’re busy pretending to repeal ObamaCare 37 times, but they’re voting to take health insurance away from millions of working Americans. Medicaid expansion will insure those who earn up to 133% of the poverty level and previously earned too much to qualify for Medicaid — at least in the states that are smart enough to accept it.

Covering the working poor won’t just keep them out of emergency rooms —  it will keep them out of jail.

“People who are drug dependent pay for their habits with petty crimes,” Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge David Matia told The Cleveland Plain Dealer, which has the best name of any newspaper in America. “The mentally ill, who are more likely to commit crimes of violence when they are un-medicated, are less likely to harm you, your neighbor, your child or your friend.”

Matia believes Medicaid expansion will cut the costs of his drug court and save millions for his local community. And the connection between health insurance and keeping people out of jail isn’t just this one judge’s theory.

“Researchers at the George Washington University reported in a November 2012 paper that those people released from jail with Medicaid coverage had reduced recidivism rates and the time between offenses was longer than those without health care,” The Plain Dealer‘s Sarah Jane Tribble reports.

The bad news in the past is that to get Medicaid these former inmates had to earn below poverty wages.

The good news is that expansion is already law, despite the House GOP’s 37 best attempts. While red states and blue states like Michigan that have been hijacked by the Tea Party like Michigan are turning down expansion, we’ll soon have real data that documents the effect on expanded coverage — mostly paid for by new taxes on the richest 2% — has on recidivism.

Now we just need to keep people out of jail in the first place. To do this we need to escape the failed mentality of jailing people who get involved in drugs, what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.”

A majority of the Americans already support legalizing marijuana. The voters in Washington and Colorado have voted to end their state’s prohibition. The next logical step is to end the federal prohibition on marijuana and let states regulate it the way they do cigarettes and alcohol. There’s no evidence this would lead to increased use. Instead it would generate the money needed to treat those who already suffer from dependency and often do not seek treatment for fear of punishment.

The War on Drugs is mostly a War on Pot.

NORML estimates that 6.5 million Americans have been arrested in the last decade. Not all of them were convicted but all of their lives were disrupted, their families shaken, their careers and ability to provide for themselves threatened.

For believers in personal responsibility like myself, damning young people for dabbling in drugs and dooming the working poor to a life in and out of jail is a crime against the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

In the next few years we have a real opportunity to make our government less cruel and more in touch with science and reality by beginning to end the ridiculous War on Drugs. Much more will have to be done — including ending the privatization/corporatization of prisons.

But for now we just have to prove expanding Medicaid works and jailing people for a petty crime that the last three presidents have committed is a huge waste of our time.

[Photo by aldrin hombrebueno | Flickr]