Marijuana Incarcerations in the United States

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Although state laws regarding the possession and use of medical marijuana have been adopted, across the United States, many people are incarcerated for using weed. Many of these individuals were found to possess marijuana that their doctor prescribed. Some prosecuting attorneys have argued that the passing of a medical marijuana initiative has had no impact on the enforcement of state drug laws.

Marijuana is still considered illegal in states without a medical marijuana law. Marijuana prisoners are arrested for possessing small amounts of cannabis for long periods, sometimes over five years.

The marijuana usage rate in the United States has been increasing steadily for years. The number of current users (i.e., people who have used marijuana during the past month) nearly tripled from 4.1 million Americans in 2001 to 9.5 million Americans in 2013.

With an estimated 144 million adults in the U.S. smoking weed once or more each year, it’s no surprise that the number of states legalizing medical marijuana keeps growing. With a host of health benefits associated with marijuana use, including pain control and seizure reduction, two-thirds of Americans now believe marijuana should be made legal for recreational – not just for medical use.


Legalization or Decriminalization

Over the past year, more states have legalized medical marijuana than ever before. What’s behind this growing trend of legalizing medical marijuana? The answer is quite nuanced, but one contributing factor may be that the U.S. government has spent millions researching its potential health benefits in recent years.

A growing list of states are legalizing marijuana -for medical and recreational purposes. In the United States, 31 states now have laws making the use of marijuana legal for medical purposes. Even more surprising, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. That’s more than 20 percent of the United States population that potentially has legal access to marijuana.


How Many People Are Incarcerated for Marijuana?

Over 1 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. for marijuana, most for simple possession. This is more than those who are in federal prison for murder, rape, and other violent crimes on a federal level. Over 800,000 of these include African Americans, even though Blacks and Whites use the drug at similar rates. 

According to a recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union, the prison population for marijuana use was 1,561,013 from 2001 to 2010. The study did not look at pre-2001 data, so the actual number of marijuana-related arrests is likely much higher than their reported figure.


Marijuana Incarceration Statistics

Marijuana use has been in the news a lot recently, with 23 states and D.C. legalizing medical and recreational marijuana use, as well as 41 percent of Americans supporting full legalization. The U.S. has by far the highest imprisonment rate for marijuana offenses worldwide – even compared to Poland and Romania, which are much more oppressive towards drug use.

The arrest rates for marijuana possession dropped sharply in the states that legalized it, even though marijuana sales were illegal in all those states. After legalization, the total number of marijuana prisoners in U.S. prisons declined by 11 percent from 2010 to 2015.


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Marijuana Incarceration by Race

Though there are numerous reasons why the War on Marijuana is unfair, it is undoubtedly among the most racially biased. The arrest data show that a person will more likely be incarcerated for marijuana use in America than they would for murder or rape. In fact, justice statistics show – arrest numbers of marijuana-related charges, a complete 86% of them are charged with possession only. Of those inmates in 2010 who were serving time for marijuana use, 88% were people of color.

Studies show racial disparities at the end of 2012, nearly 7 million people were under correctional supervision in the U.S.— about 2.4 million people behind bars in prisons and jails, and an additional 4.5 million are under parole, probation, or other supervised releases. But 1 in 6 prisoners today is under drug arrest, and black people are admitted to state prisons on drug charges at 10.4 times the rate of white men.

A 2016 report by the ACLU found a dramatic rise in white and Latino arrests for marijuana following the legalization of medical marijuana. However, according to the same report, black Americans continue to be arrested nearly four times their white counterparts. While marijuana use is approximately equal between races, communities of color have been charged and incarcerated at much higher rates for drug offenses.


In Conclusion

Thousands of marijuana offenders are still serving lengthy prison sentences today for drug crimes that are no longer illegal. A new report from The Sentencing Project shows that more than 46,000 people are currently doing time in prison for marijuana offenses, many of which are related to using or possession.

To learn more about cannabis addiction and treatment, try reaching out to Opus Health at 855-953-1345. We offer advice and education on ways to avoid triggers, and how to get help if you or someone you love has already gotten caught up in the cycle.

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