Blogs > Liberty and Power > Air Marshals

Sep 29, 2006 8:52 pm

Air Marshals

Marijuana prohibition carries a great deal of opportunity costs. One of these is considerably less emphasis on protecting the American people from terrorism (see Arnold Trebach’s Fatal Distraction: The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror).

A good example of this can be seen in recent reporting about problems within the Federal Air Marshal Service. An article in the Christian Science Monitor points out that the organization’s goal is to cover a mere 3% of the 25,000 – 30,000 commercial flights taking place on a daily basis. The piece then cites several sources as contending “that goal is rarely reached because there aren't enough marshals.” The author, Alexandra Marks, also tells us that prior to 9/11 only 33 active marshals were at work.

The number of working marshals had greatly increased since then but the Washington Timeshas reported that lately the chances of any one flight being protected are rapidly diminishing. The story informs the reader that “the size of the federal air marshal force has been cut in half by on-the-job injuries that have sidelined nearly 2,100 marshals.” These health problems are related to the marshal’s intense flying schedule and include ruptured ear drums, sinus conditions, and deep vein thrombosis. The paper quotes a memo from the Charlotte, N.C., field office stating that it was “experiencing a large amount of missed missions due to federal air marshals calling in sick and medical groundings by physicians.” The communication also asserted that “these groundings all have a commonality of being directly related to our current flight schedules." At present air marshals average four flights a day for five consecutive days.

Clearly the solution to the health problems and miniscule number of covered flights is to hire considerably more air marshals. Now, if you ask someone in government why this is not being done they will invariably mention budget constraints. However, Harvard economist Jeffery Miron has produced a report showing how a change in policy could fill the skies with healthy professional protectors. In his analysis of the costs of marijuana prohibition he concludes that the federal government could annually save 2.4 billion dollars in enforcement costs and generate up to 6.2 billion dollars in tax revenue if it legalized marijuana. How many air marshals could the service hire with 8.6 billion?

Cross posted on the Trebach Report

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