At the moment, more than fifty percent of the country has decided to legalize medical marijuana, and there are another six that might do the same in November. With that in mind, it may be time to talk about why non-violent cannabis offense is still the reason behind a majority of the drug arrests that occur in the United States. Out of the 8.2 million cannabis rests made between 2001 and 2010, eighty-eight percent were just for possession, the ACLU reports, and not even for large amounts. These numbers have not changed much in the last years.
This leads to one question: why are non-violent cannabis offenders still being incarcerated in four states where recreational marijuana is absolutely legal? The main answer is that the war on drugs failed. Taxpayers spent more than a billion dollars a year to put cannabis offenders in jail, about forty-four percent of which never had a criminal history, and thirty-three percent are over the age of forty, according to a report from NORML. Stephen Downing, an old L.A. Deputy Police Chief, wrote that, in the past, police only locked up true offenders.
“Rapists. Murderers. Bank robbers. Prison was a place for bad guys. These senseless laws that over-criminalize drug use was passed in haste amid a climate of fear and benefit no one.”
To add to pardoning criminals put into jail for nonviolent marijuana offenses, it is also vital to give them the chance to get rid of their criminal records. A cannabis conviction follows someone for life and affects just about everything one needs or might want to do. For instance, they won’t be bale to buy a house, get a job, or a loan. This is where California’s Prop 64 might be able set a national precedent. Proposition 64 reads “individuals serving sentences for activities that are made legal or are subject to lesser penalties under the measure would be eligible for resentencing.”
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