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Want real criminal justice reform for Oklahoma? End the War on Drugs

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Rep. Scott Biggs
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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NORMAN, Okla.- Most people understand that this state cannot continue on its present path, that too many crises have converged into a single flashpoint where only fundamental change will avert disaster.  The overflowing prisons, the staggeringly high female incarceration rate, a governing body that brings the taxpayers to the brink of bankruptcy only to ask for more money so they can repeat the process later, how can this go on any longer?  Even among the leadership, the consensus is that the state is in crisis. Solutions have been proposed, but they treat the symptoms, rather than the root cause of our plight.

Our female incarceration rate, 2.5 times the national average, has garnered national attention, prompting a high-profile forum that was attended by experts, former inmates, and the Governor herself.  During that forum, the problem was framed, and everyone in attendance agreed that something must be done to address the problem, attention was given to the successful rehabilitation programs that are available in extremely limited quantity to female prisoners, but it felt that every most everyone on stage danced around what appears to be the only true solution to female incarceration.

As a baby step toward anything that resembles reform, DOC director Joe Allbaugh recently revealed that the prison system was orchestrating a “community supervision program” that would theoretically discharge some 1,400 non-violent offenders who were within 18 months of completing their sentence.  This provoked Chickasha Rep. and criminal justice reform boobytrap Scott Biggs into a scathing response about Allbaugh’s plan being a danger to the public.  Ostensibly pro-reform Governor Fallin weighed in on the squabble, coming out against the DOC plan after reviewing it, forcing inquiring minds to wonder just what reform looks like in the eyes of the Governor.  The DOC plan will continue as planned, but with the rate of new prisoners added to the corrections system (1,000 in the first four months of this year), how will Allbaugh’s plan anything be anything more than a papering over of the problem? 

The core conundrum is why so many criminals are being created in the first place.  Without addressing that first, any “reform” will be meaningless.

Now, what policy is churning out criminals like a factory in this state, one that has also become a black hole for resources and an obstacle to millions in tax revenue and new jobs?  With 80 percent of the women incarcerated in the state, it’s clear that the primary cause is the War on Drugs.

And what would real, fundamental change look like?  How about a complete and immediate end to the ridiculous, expensive, and counterproductive policy. An immediate legalization of marijuana, both medicinal and recreational.  It is far safer than alcohol, it can’t kill you no matter how much you smoke, it’s a miracle for job creation, and legalizing it would vanquish the black market in the state.  It could then be used as a devastatingly effective weapon in the fight against overdoses in the state, as marijuana has been shown to block opioid reward receptors in the brain, gifting addicts with the only safe and extremely effective treatment they will come into contact with. It’s also been shown to alleviate the symptoms of meth withdrawal to the point of non-existence. 

And given that the very existence of meth as a viable recreational drug owes its existence to the prohibition of far less dangerous drugs like marijuana, it is safe to assume that ending the Drug War would be an extinction-level event for meth, in the same way that ending alcohol prohibition put an end to the market for bathtub gin and moonshine.

The Drug War has been a criminal factory for far too long, and is so obviously, blatantly responsible for our shameful female incarceration rate.  Ending the Drug War would close up the black market chasm that so many of Oklahoma’s women fall into.

Legalizing marijuana would not only put an end to the black market, but it would be a blessing for the state’s coffers.  Colorado raked in $200 million in marijuana tax revenue in 2016.  That could be us.  The marijuana industry is projected to outpace manufacturing in terms job creation within three year, creating a quarter million jobs.  That, too, could be us.  

“Reform” is a vague non-concept, and must be attached to specific shift in policy to mean anything at all.  Politicians can talk about “reform” all day, but it means nothing if it isn’t attached to specifics and followed through with action.  Reform in this case would mean realizing we are experiencing the effects of an over-criminalization of activity and targeting the root cause.

We have arrived at this state of affairs because we as citizens have become disengaged from the governing process.  We have basically let our government do whatever it wants to us, spend our money on whatever it wants.  We have let the Biggs’ of the world engage in what the wonderful reporter Patrick McGuigan calls the “four corner” stalling tactic, effectively impeding reform indefinitely.  It’s time these people have been given a shot clock, and throw them out of the game if they can’t handle it.

To use a very worn-out phrase, the can has been kicked one too many times.  It’s gone over the cliff, and unless we as citizens become actively involved in getting our house in order, we’ll be the next ones over the edge.  With 1,000 newly incarcerated prisoners in the system in the first four months of this year, cosmetic reforms clearly will not do.  Criminal justice reform must start with what is creating all these criminals to begin with.  End the Drug War, allow Oklahoma to have the freest marijuana market in the country, and watch the tidal wave of jobs and money roll in. 

Change must happen now, but will only happen once we change our perspective on what the role of government ought to be in our lives.

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Shane Smith

Shane Smith is an accountant and freelance writer with a bachelor's degree in economics from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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