Today is National Weed Day in the United States. That may prompt chuckles among lots of, but, as lighthearted as much of today’s commentary might be, U.S. marijuana policy is no laughing matter.
In the U.S., marijuana is the topic of extreme federal and state laws criminalizing use, belongings, production and distribution. The expenses of these policies, not only in regards to the billions of dollars dedicated to imposing them, but likewise in harm to human lives, are incredible.
The U.S. has the largest reported prison population in the world, with an estimated 2.3 million people behind bars. More than 50 % of federal detainees are serving time for drug offenses. From 1.3 million individuals in state prisons in 2013, 210,000 were sent to prison for drug offenses; of those, almost 50,000 were there just for ownership.
The varieties of individuals arrested for drug offenses are even greater. FBI information (which is only partial) indicate at least 1.5 million “substance abuse” arrests in 2012; marijuana offenses represented 48% of these arrests. Of all drug arrests, 82% were for belongings; 87% of marijuana arrests were for possession. The American Civil Liberties Union has reported that in between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million arrests in the united state for marijuana alone.
In New york city City, Human Rights Watch recorded that in between 1996 and 2011, authorities made majority a million arrests for possessing percentages of marijuana in public– more than for any other offense. City officials suggested that these arrests permitted them to recognize future violent wrongdoers, however our analysis revealed this was not the case.
Rates of arrest and jail time are marked by stark racial disparities: African-Americans are just 13% of the US population, however they represent 41% of state and 42% of federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses. African-Americans are almost 4 times as likely as whites to be detained for cannabis ownership, even though African-Americans and whites utilize the drug at comparable rates.
The influence on those imprisoned and detained can be ravaging. A conviction not just suggests loss of liberty for the imprisoned individual, however can have ripple effects for their household and neighborhood. Convictions can suggest losing the right to vote and dealing with enormous hurdles to obtaining work, housing, and food support. For immigrants– including lawful permanent residents– conviction for even a small drug offense commonly suggests deportation and irreversible separation from their U.S. households.
Even for those who are not convicted, an arrest can indicate embarrassment, detention, loss of employment, and other collateral repercussions.
And then there are the costs to the united state criminal justice system itself, as police, along with overstretched district attorneys and courts, hang around, cash and energy pursuing low-level drug offenses that might otherwise be utilized on more significant criminal offenses.
Existing U.S. drug policies emphasizing criminalization of the drug trade have actually also had disastrous consequences outside the country, consisting of by considerably enhancing the success of illegal drug markets and fueling the development and operations of groups responsible for large-scale violence and corruption in nations from Colombia and Mexico to Afghanistan.
Advocates of criminalizing substance abuse typically suggest that it is needed to keep people from damaging themselves or others. But imprisoning people who make use of drugs restricts their autonomy and rights to personal privacy, while doing little to secure them. Instead, fear of police can drive people who make use of drugs underground, preventing them from getting health services and increasing the risk they face of violence, discrimination, and significant health problem.
There are better ways to safeguard people who use drugs, consisting of by offering drug abuse treatment and social support. And governments can criminalize negligent or unsafe behavior (such as driving under the influence) to manage harmful conduct by people who use drugs without criminalizing drug use itself.
Fortunately is that, increasingly, U.S. states are getting up to the costs of current extreme drug policies, and experimenting with new strategies– at least concerning cannabis. Four states have legislated the drug. Lots have actually legalized it for medicinal functions. In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder provided guidance for federal district attorneys that would enable US states to legalize marijuana, noting that a regulated market might further federal concerns of battling the mob. Other nations, like Colombia and Mexico, are pressing for– and even (like Uruguay and Portugal) explore– options to current strategies.
The United States still has a long way to go in addressing the local, national, and international harm of its drug policies. However gradually, new ways forward will certainly be spreading out like, uh, weed.