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At the precipice of ending cannabis prohibition in America and replacing it with logical alternatives—such as taxing and regulating cannabis for the benefit of society—please don’t forget about America’s prisoners of the War on Drugs, the longest running war in U.S. history, particularly the prisoners of the battle against marijuana. Currently, there are an estimated 100,000 of our brothers and sisters who’ve been ensnared and shackled by now unpopular cannabis prohibition laws. This should never be too far from the consciousness of the average cannabis consumer.
Prohibitionists’ Big Lie: No one gets arrested for weed anymore, therefore certainly no one goes to prison for it!
Since the mid-2000’s, 700,000 people have been arrested annually for cannabis crimes, and an even more astounding 25 million cannabis-related arrests since federal marijuana prohibition began in 1937, there is no lack of human fodder to keep feeding the seemingly unchecked and veracious appetite of the U.S. criminal justice system. Sadly, America, land of the free and home of the brave, now has a more crowded prison system than China, Russia and India.
There are more cannabis-related offenses in America than all other drug-related offenses combined. Although sixteen states have decriminalized possession; eighteen states and the District of Columbia have made patient access to medical cannabis lawful and now two states have outright legalized cultivation and sales, still vexing, tens of thousands of cannabis cultivators, sellers and consumers are incarcerated annually.
Approximately 98% of the arrests happen at the local and state level; feds tend to arrest and incarcerate a very small percentage of cannabis-related offenders, most notably predicated on factors such as the size of alleged criminal syndication, weight, plant count or geographical jurisdiction, i.e., borders, national park and seashores, major airports and etc.
Some perspective is needed…
America’s criminal justice system is the busiest on the planet, with an estimated 2.5 million offenders incarcerated for all crimes. Contrast America and the equally sized population and affluence of the European Union countries, and our country’s penchant for incarceration stands clear: the EU prison population for all crimes is approximately 450,000.
Alarmingly, In America, our pot prisoner population alone is a quarter of the entire EU prison system.
This is not only an outrage, it is the name of the webpage devoted to chronicling about a dozen prisoners incarcerated for life on cannabis-only related offenses. The passion play of angel-hearted activist Beth Curtis, lifeforpot.org is a powerful and necessary reminder of how cruel humans can be to each other. Currently, high-powered attorney (and CEO of High Times Magazine) Michael Kennedy has taken some of their cases pro bono, attempting to get their sentences pardoned or reduced.
P.O.W. Pen Pals
Ever have the need to instantly stop feeling sorry for yourself? NORML has the cure for such: take up a pen pal relationship with any one of our incarcerated brothers and sisters. When new interns begin at NORML they often want to go to ‘The Hill’ to lobby, or attend legislative hearings or court proceedings, but, we often first ask them to correspond with pot prisoners, if only to remind them of the significance of the age-old phrase ‘by the grace of God go I.’
Resources for Reefer Incarcerated
The Prisoner of War section of norml.org can be the first stop for fellow cannabis consumers and activists, but hardly the last with additional visits to anti-prohibition allies such as:
Legalization is a fait accompli, but returning pot prohibition prisoners home post-haste is not…
An estimated one million citizens are now legally using medical cannabis. Cities, counties and states are now collecting taxes and license fees from ‘medical’ cannabis cultivators, manufacturers and retailers. Over 50% of the American public supports legalization over prohibition laws. You have to know as a society we’re on the edge of major socio-legal changes toward marijuana policy.
However, again, let’s not forget about our brothers and sisters locked up for “cannabis crimes”, and recognize if you were incarcerated for cannabis you too would want your fellow cannabis consumers to not only not forget about you—like relics lost to time, out of sight and out of mind—but to work even harder advocating to end these terribly misguided public policies so another generation of cannabis consumers and providers are not abused and mistreated by the government. Work to make their sacrifices count, as upstanding citizens, not as little more than symbolic “criminals.”
To conclude in reiteration: At the end of marijuana prohibition, don’t forget about the prisoners of war.
Allen St. Pierre is the executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) based in Washington, D.C.