Mom Gets 10 Years for $31 of Pot – or – How the Drug War Affects State Budget Deficits

Ten years in prison for 31 dollars worth of pot... (photo: Sally Mahoney on Flickr)

With states across the country facing serious budget deficits, it is important to remember our country’s tough marijuana laws aren’t just unnecessarily cruel to people who break them, but they are also devastating to our states’ budgets.

In Oklahoma, we have a mom who got sentenced to ten years in prison for a $31 pot sale. From NewsOK:

Because of $31 in marijuana sales, Patricia Marilyn Spottedcrow is now serving 10 years in prison, has been taken away from her four young children and husband, and has ended her work in nursing homes.


Starr received a 30-year suspended sentence with no incarceration, but five years of drug and alcohol assessments. Spottedcrow was sentenced to 10 years in prison for distribution and two years for possession, to run concurrently. She will be up for parole in 2014.

According to the National Institutes of Corrections, it costs, on average, $16,202 a year to incarcerate an inmate in Oklahoma. Taking into account inflation, if Spottedcrow ends up serving all ten years of the sentence, it would likely cost the state roughly $200,000 just to keep her in prison. Assuming a more likely scenario where she only serves four to six years before getting out on probation, the total cost will probably still be roughly $100,000. Of course, if she developed a costly medical condition that requires expensive treatment, the total cost to the state for punishing her for $31 worth marijuana sales could quickly grow by tens of thousands more.

These figures are just the cost of incarceration. It is likely that due to the criminal record and time out of the work force, Spottedcrow’s lifetime earning even after getting released will be diminished as a result. Over the next few decades, this, in turn, could cost the state thousands in her reduced taxable income and/or in added social services she will need as a result of potentially earning less.
In times when state leaders are facing tough budget choices, voters should ask themselves if they are willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars to punish people for use or sale of small amounts of a relatively harmless herb.