The war on drugs is a very real battle in the United States. Drugs tear apart jobs, lives, and families, but how harmful is a joint or two of marijuana? Is this a war that is truly worth fighting for? According to drugpolicy.org (2018), there were over 1,572,579 arrests for drug violations in 2016 alone. This is an incredible number, which implicates the amount of time, effort, workforce, and money the United States puts into enforcing drug laws every day.
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Now the United States is experiencing a new era of acceptance of marijuana like we’ve never seen before. Many states are pushing for it to be legalized and most of the population is behind it, and we must now consider what to do with those incarcerated for marijuana possession. This paper will consider the statistics behind the problem, the difference between federal and state law and how that affects the issue, and some of the outcomes of inmates in states where medical and recreational marijuana has already been legalized.
The Statistics Behind the Issue
The United States is engaged in a vicious battle with drugs. At the beginning of our history, the Native Americans can be seen sharing a peace pipe with settlers, and with a mixture of tobacco and other substances, many peace treaties were made. As the years have passed, the federal government has become more and more strict about regulations concerning alternative substances. Since 1980, incarcerations for drug-law violations have grown ten-fold in the United States (Caulkins, 1997). This particular paper will not be examining those that were involved in other drug-law violations or violent crimes, but with those who are imprisoned for marijuana possession only. In the Journal of Drug Issues, volume 37, it is stated, In 2003, there were over 750,000 arrests for marijuana, 88% of which were for possession only (Shepard, 2007). This is a ridiculously high number of arrests for non-violent offenders. This costs the criminal justice system time, money, and manpower that could be utilized in many other, more productive operations. It is a fact that when you criminalize marijuana, you pay the price by criminalizing millions of Americans as well (Yankow, 2011). Yankow also says,
Whatever the right answer to the difficult question of addictive drugs, there is no question that the current war on drugs, besides leading to the arrest and conviction of millions. Has visited pain in deeply racialized lashes. Yoking countless young people with a felony record that often prevents them from seeking an education, holding a job, or in some cases obtaining food in times of need (2011).
It is clear that criminalizing marijuana or the overcriminalization of it has been of major concern to the American people recently, and now the majority of citizens are in favor of legalizing it across the entire nation, especially when they consider how the $3,613,969,972 that is spent in enforcing marijuana yearly could otherwise be spent (ACLU.com, 2018). It may also benefit the American people if marijuana is legalized recreationally, because less people will come into contact with the criminal world, and therefore the recidivism rate would decrease. Using those funds currently applied to law enforcement officers to do drug busts of stoners sitting in their own homes could be capitalized towards police responding to real crime, or even rehabilitation centers, intercity schools, or any number of worthy causes.
While certain states have now legalized specified amounts of recreational marijuana, the federal government still regards marijuana as an illegal substance. Under the CSA, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that the federal government views cannabis as highly addictive and having no medical value (Federal Marijuana Law 2018). Although many hold a very contradictory opinion, Marijuana remains illegal under federal law even though its uses, both medically and recreationally, are permitted in some states. As a Schedule I drug, it is considered to have no medical benefits and to be equal with methamphetamines and even cocaine. The question might be posed then, why hasn’t marijuana been rescheduled? An article on Vox.com points out that the real problem with rescheduling marijuana is the lack of drug trials:
To date, there have been no large-scale clinical trials on marijuana. Those kinds of studies are traditionally required to prove a drug has medical value to the federal government. But these studies are also much more difficult to conduct when a substance is strictly regulated by the federal government as a schedule 1 drug (2015).
So, what this truly breaks down to then is that while marijuana practically isn’t more harmful than cocaine or meth, it is still categorized as a dangerous substance under federal law.
The problematic point in this whole legalization process system is the difference between state law and federal law. While states can individually legalize marijuana for recreational consumption, it still remains illegal on a federal level. The way that the local and national law enforcement agencies deal with marijuana possession is different.
Most drug arrests are made by state and local law enforcement, and most of these arrests are for possession rather than sale or manufacturing. In contrast. Most federal drug arrests are for trafficking offenses rather than possession (Sacco 2014).
Especially during the Obama Administration, federal law enforcement generally stayed out of States’ business when it came to marijuana consumption and distribution, as long as it met certain criteria, like being a cash-only business. And often taxes would also be high because banks won’t let them file certain deductibles.
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