Marijuana Reform Can’t End Mass Incarceration

Posted: August 19, 2016 by Nazim in Punishment, War on Drugs


Among the myriad of ongoing legal debates are marijuana law reform – recently set back by the DEA’s decision to keep it as a Schedule I drug because there isn’t enough evidence for any legitimate medical use, despite the fact that it’s basically impossible to do any research on it because it’s a Schedule I drug – and sentencing reform. I mean who doesn’t like to be the runaway winner of the nation for most of its citizens in prison? I guess we’re just, you know, bad. But, just in case some of us thought that this might be an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, well, here’s why we can’t, succinctly stated in this excerpt:

There’s no question that the “war on marijuana” is overblown and unproductive. Since the early 1990s the focus of drug arrests nationally has shifted from a prior emphasis on cocaine and heroin to increasing marijuana arrests.  By 2014 marijuana accounted for nearly half of the 1.5 million drug arrests nationally. But while this elevated level of marijuana enforcement is counterproductive in many respects, there is little evidence to indicate that it has been a substantial contributor to mass incarceration.  Of the 1.5 million people in state or federal prisons, only about 40,000 are incarcerated for a marijuana offense.  The vast majority of this group is behind the walls for selling, not using, the drug, often in large quantities.  We could debate whether even high-level marijuana sellers should be subject to lengthy incarceration, but they constitute less than 3% of the prison population.

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