CA NORML Costs of Prohibition

Posted @ CaNORML: 11/13/01

California's High Tide of Marijuana Prisoners

Marijuana Offenders in State Prison 1972-June 2001

Sacramento, Nov. 2001. The number of marijuana prisoners in California has declined slightly in the last year, but remains near record levels, according to the latest report from the state Department of Corrections. The report shows that there were 1600 marijuana felons in state prison as of June 30, 2001, down 6% from the previous year and down 16% from their all-time record high in 1997. The population of pot prisoners nonetheless remains a whopping 1,500% higher than at the beginning of the Reagan administration's war on drugs two decades ago.

California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer attributes the decline to an increasing reluctance of juries to convict and prosecutors to press felony pot charges, and to the passage of California's medical marijuana law, which has opened the way to non-criminal suppliers.

The Department of Corrections report also shows a slight decline in the total number of drug prisoners to 41,284, down 10% from its record high in 1999. The number in prison for simple possession has also declined somewhat to 18,985, down 5% from its all-time record high of 20,116 in June, 2000. Possession-only offenders now account for 11% of the total prison population. The current data predate Prop. 36, which makes non-violent possession offenders eligible for treatment rather than prison. Prop. 36 took effect on July 1, 2001.

The Department of Corrections figures do not include offenders in county jail or federal prison.

Even though California has far more pot prisoners than it did twenty years ago, this has had little evident impact on marijuana use. According to the California Student Substance Use Survey, student drug use declined modestly in the late 1980's but then rebounded in the early 1990s, even as the number of pot prisoners was soaring. California NORML argues that "lock-em-up" policies have failed and that the state would be better off to decriminalize marijuana entirely and devote law enforcement resources to more serious problems.

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