Decriminalizing Drugs—and Burglary, Too


Because of budget cuts, prosecutors in Contra Costa County, California, are backing off the drug war:

District Attorney Robert Kochly…said that beginning May 4, his office will no longer prosecute felony drug cases involving smaller amounts of narcotics. That means anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than 0.5 grams of heroin and fewer than five pills of ecstasy, OxyContin or Vicodin won't be charged….

"We had to make very, very difficult choices, and we had to try to prioritize things. There are no good choices to be made here," said Kochly, a 35-year veteran prosecutor. "It's trying to choose the lesser of certain evils in deciding what we can and cannot do."

I'm all for decriminalizing narcotics, but the Contra Costa authorities might want to reconsider their priorities. According to Kochly, larger drug offenses will still be prosecuted. Shoplifting, trespassing, and misdemeanor assaults and burglaries will not.

N.B.: I find it hard to believe the D.A. doesn't understand the incentive effects of publicly announcing that you're going to stop prosecuting shoplifters. I wouldn't be surprised if the new policy amounts to a showy stunt aimed at shaking down the government for some emergency funding. There's an old trick that local bureaucrats like to play when they want to keep the funds flowing. First you sort the services taxpayers want the most from the services we wouldn't miss. Then you threaten some cuts in the first category.