Federal Appeals Court Says Maybe Locking Up Marijuana Users Isn’t Appropriate

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has handed down a decision condemning the incarceration of citizens simply for marijuana use, even if it is a violation of parole or probation. One of the judges, Reagan-appointed Judge Richard Posner, was bluntly quoted as saying, ““we have our doubts that imprisonment is an appropriate treatment for a marijuana habit.”

The case in question was regarding Jesse Smith, who had a criminal history when he was young (no doubt the result of having a father in prison for murder and a mother reportedly addicted to crack cocaine). While some of his youthful offenses involved firearms, Smith has since cleaned up his life. He has a job (his employer testified on his behalf that he was a good employee), a bank account that he uses to pay his bills and three children. He also has a marijuana habit that repeatedly lands him back in hot water, as his marijuana use violates the conditions of his release from prison.

The Appellate Court was reviewing the case because Smith was sentenced to 15 months in prison due to his marijuana use while in a halfway house. Federal district Judge Sara Darrow handed down the sentence, and the appellate judges have requested additional information about her involvement in the case. It may be that they find Judge Darrow should not have sentenced Smith.

As it currently stands, their opinion will not change Smith’s sentence or the standing policy in this country of sending cannabis users to prison.

It could, however, be the beginning of a rational discussion about whether sending folks traumatized by incarceration back to prison for using a substance known to help those struggling with trauma is benefiting anyone but prisons. Perhaps instead of worrying about parolees using cannabis, it should be considered a tool to help with their re-acclimation to mainstream society.

Photo Credit: Dirty Jerzian under (CC BY-SA 3.0) via DeviantArt