LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Keeping recreational pot users in jail is wrong

Marijuana is now legal in some form in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Colorado earned $76 million in 2014 from its legalization of marijuana. It created thousands of jobs. The state saved tens of millions in criminal-justice costs. Juveniles’ use of marijuana is down.

Once California legalizes marijuana later this year, we shall start to see some truly astounding numbers of dollars earned, jobs created, and other benefits of legalization of pot. No more “reefer madness”!

Legalization creates lots of new jobs — entrepreneurs embarking on new careers. But what will we do about those millions of Americans whose lives have been ruined by being arrested for nonviolent marijuana offenses?

From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone. In 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together. New York arrested more than 59,000 people for marijuana possession in 2010 alone. Just under half of the million and a half annual arrests for non-violent drug violations are for marijuana. Because the vast majority of drug arrests are for non-violent offenses, this means that marijuana use is responsible for close to one-half of this country’s “drug problem.”

Long after the majority of states have legalized marijuana (it won’t be long!), we will still be wasting billions of tax dollars annually warehousing recreational marijuana users in our prisons. Some are serving life sentences! Can anyone call this justice? Think about it! How long might it take to right the wrong? Millions of lives have been destroyed by harsh penalties for marijuana possession. More than 30 million Americans have a “scarlet letter” — a record of a marijuana arrest — emblazoned on their life’s record. How long might it take to right the wrong?

Justice and fairness require that states enact laws to free immediately all those imprisoned only for marijuana possession, and laws to automatically expunge all records of arrests for only marijuana possession. If not now, when? It will happen … it is just a matter of time — the time it takes for “tough on crime” politicians to come to their senses!

Ken Abraham
Deputy Attorney
General 1974-1979
President of Citizens
for Criminal Justice

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