45,000 in Prison for Pot


Newly released 2004 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that almost 45,000 people are serving time in state or federal prisons for marijuana offenses. They represent about 12 percent of drug offenders in state prisons and 13 percent of drug offenders in federal prisons. These are similar to the numbers used by Chuck Thomas in a 1998 Marijuana Policy Project report; he estimated there were another 7,200 or so marijuana offenders in local jails.

These figures show it's not true that no one serves time for marijuana, as drug warriors sometimes imply. But since marijuana accounts for almost half of drug arrests, they also confirm that marijuana offenses are much less likely to result in jail or prison time than offenses involving other drugs.

[via NORML]

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  1. Lets see … at about $35,000 per inmate per year to maintain these non-violent offenders in jail, that costs the taxpayers about $1.575 billion a year.

    Money well spent? I don’t think so!

  2. That’s crazy how many inmates there are for nonviolent offenses. Yes, drugs are a problem. But unless their drug use is harming others, why waste more tax money on it?

  3. 20 Billion a year in funding for the DEA, meaning 20 billion less were funding removed.

    The only reason they arrest pot users is job security, they don’t want people to realize how useless they are.

  4. Huh, so… $35,000 per inmate per year, 45,000 (12-13%) of drug offenders in prison are on pot charges… so… we spend about $12.6 Billion on incarcerating drug offenders. 300 million people… that’s $42 per person. Somehow, I knew the number 42 was important.

  5. And according to the drug warriors, marijuana is perfectly safe, the “safest thing in the world” … it just makes you stay on tom’s couch all day long.

    Do these numbers include all (highly-inflated) “marijuana related offenses” or just people locked up for sale or possession? Because the system loves to label as many offenses “drug related” as possible. If person A murders person B, and when the police find person B, marijuana is in B’s pocket, they will charge A with murder and call it a “drug related offense” (and check the “marijuana” box on the little piece of paper). Similarly, if a drunk driver with absolutely no drugs in his system other than alcohol crashes into a bus and kills 20 bald cancer-children and two nuns, is found to have a baggy of marijuana in his car trunk, this will likewise be “checked off” as a marijuana-related offense.

    They do this to greatly inflate the numbers. Hospitals do the same thing when people come in and have drugs in their system.

  6. “These figures show it’s not true that no one serves time for marijuana, as drug warriors sometimes imply”

    It is not just “drug warriors” (note the inference here about who is making the claim). Anybody who knows anything about the criminal justice system in the US knows that VERY FEW (the “no one” claim is of course a strawman since of course SOME do) people go to prison for possession of marijuana. When they do, it’s usually a case of multiple priors, as well as other offenses charged WITH the mj, or dropped in regards to a plea deal.

    Bruce’s comments are absolutely spot on, and it is amazing the way that any ideologue – whether it is a “drug warrior” or a “anti-drug warrior” (see: NORML) will twist statistics and selectively apply data to try to prove a point.

    Get real.

    And fwiw, i am agains mj being a crime. I think that’s stupid, even though I think mj is lame.

    But I am also against NORML and their ilk trying to make it sound like people are going to prison for possession of some joints, which is simply absurd.

    yer average mj USER has exceptionally small chance of going to JAIL, let alone PRISON for mere possession, and certainly not for the first (or 2nd frankly) offense.

    As for the DEA comment. I know several DEA agents. Some are even against MJ being a crime. DEA doesn’t make the law, nor do the administrator’s public statement actually represent what the rank and file agents think

  7. whit:

    You need to get real.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pictures of smug DEA assholes posing with confiscated marijuana plants that were legally grown for medical use (California). These guys get to play cowboy at the expense of peaceful American citizens, and get very little resistance doing so.

    The DEA, like any other government agency, exists by being funded. Obviously, their funds are contingent upon them going after drug dealers and drug users. OF COURSE they have great incentive to bust pot heads, because 1) they are very prolific and 2) they are, in the great majority, non-violent and very easy to deal with.

    Which do you think a DEA agent would rather take on: some lunatic on crystal meth or a fat stoner lying, half-asleep, on a couch?

    So the drug warriors get to run up their numbers by the tens of thousands by pot arrests. It goes a very long way in making them appear that they are “doing something”. So during the next budget appropriation, they get millions more, and get to buy their nifty tanks and helicopters, so they can kick their GI Joe fantasy up to the next level.

    It doesn’t end.

  8. Nice guy.

    you need to get real yourself. DEA does not pass law. Congress does. And plenty of DEA agents who are against criminalized mj as POLICY, will still enforce the law, cause it is their JOB, and it is called “rule of law”.

    Yes, DEA has an incentive to bust “potheads”. But DEA does not, with exceptionally rare exceptions, go after users at all. They go after traffickers and/or growers of relatively large quantities.

    So, again u are blaming the wrong people. blame congress.

    as for my statistics, they stand. joint smokers have an infinitessimally small chance of going to prison for smoking MJ.

    that’s a fact, one that i note u didn’t try to refute, all NORML propaganda aside.

  9. I know for sure that they put people in jail for weed, 1st offense. I spent 2 months in a steel & cement cage in 1975 in Yorktown, VA, after being convicted of possession of marijuana. The county jail was located within a mile of the Yorktown Battlefield where Cornwallis surrendered to Washington. This veteran was not amused.

  10. jeez, buckshot.

    maybe i should have clarified.

    they don’t do it NOW

    i am not talking about the frigging 70’s for pete’s sake

    that was 30 yrs ago

    it’s like if i said computers routinely have over 512 megs of RAM, and u said “no, my TRS-80 Model I had 16k of RAM in 1975”

    the way the law treats MJ smokers has changed significantly in 30 yrs. So, your post supports my point. i would agree that in 1975, people were far more likely to spend jail (or even prison) time for mere possession

    i didn’t think that i needed to clearigfy that i was speaking of the law NOW,not 30 yrs ago

    for petes sake

  11. they don’t do it NOW

    Hey, half-whit, it’s not the 80’s any more out there.

    I’ve seen people sent up for possession in the last couple of years, only the court system bullshits their way around it and calls it something else. Spent one day in a courtroom where a poor resident of Gary, Indiana was busted for having a bag of grass ($10) and was sent to the can because he didn’t pay their $5000 (!) fine.

    It started as a $1000 fine, but the guy only came up with a few hundred. So the court took the money, gave him another month, but raised the fine to $1500. You know, late fees. After two more months coming up short, it got up to a $5000 fine, although the guy had already paid over $1000!

    The only difference from the mafia was the big guy was wearing a black robe and was carrying a gavel. Oh, and the little guy wasn’t trying to borrow money in the first place.

  12. Russ, nothing like anecdotal (non) evidence, like u just forwarded.

    fwiw, the same thing could happen with ANY crime (or even civil infraction) if u fail to pay yer fines.

    That says nothing about mj. It says that if a court sets up a fine schedule and u fail to pay, you can be sent to jail. That[‘s similar to a guy getting probation and then violating probation.

    It’s an additional offense.

    I am not saying the system is good or fair. I am saying that it only VERY rarely imprisons (or even jails) people for possession of mj

    and nobody has provided any evidence to the contrary, just anecdote from the 1970’s!!!! and a story of a guy who refused to pay his court fine. That happens with ALL offenses. it says nothing about mj


  13. whit:

    30 years? No shit, how time flies. Yes, you’re point that they treat MJ offenders differently today is valid. I still have a criminal record, even in the 2000’s.

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