A FORE WORD:
I’m gonna give it to you straight off the bat with the TL;DR Version: Punishment for unjust laws is unjust punishment. Especially black and Hispanic/Latino people who have been jailed in the United States for non-violent marijuana-related offenses (but also everyone else jailed for these offenses) should be set free and their records’ cleared. This is true because the War on Drugs which Nixon launched in the 70’s was a scam based in racism and political agenda, and now that we’re proving empirically that “weed” is not a danger and should never have been a “Schedule 1” controlled substance to begin with, already-rich old white men are now capitalising on the industry to become even richer and whiter. Okay, probably not whiter, but it stands to reason that everyone who’s in prison for offenses related only to weed, have been unjustly/indefensibly/irresponsibly imprisoned. If we allow these pirates of industry to now grow fat and rich off the very thing which destroyed so many lives, we as the populace of this country are loathsome hypocrites of the highest (or lowest, depending on how you look at it) order.
I don’t expect you to just take my word for it though, which is why I’ve backed up my statement with reason, precedence, and statistics compiled from questionable, credible, and government sources.
A sad fact I learned while in the process of researching this information, is that it seems nobody has the straight facts well-laid out. It would have taken far longer than I cared to spend on this already-laborous investigation, in order to suss out the truth of exactly how many people are in prison for non-violent marijuana-related crimes only. To clarify, I’m referring to any crime involving marijuana (sale, distribution, transportation, or possession) as long as it didn’t involve violence, theft, or really any other crime.
Plenty of statistics are available for possession-alone; plenty more are available for non-violent “drug-related” crimes (which could be any drug); but it seems impossible to nail down statistics specifically for the offense in which I’m directly interested, which is the most relevant to the body of this article.
What is the point of law, if not to uphold morality? If we don’t uphold morality with law, then there’s no difference between “law” and “might makes right”, which is just the law of the jungle and savagery– a concept some groups refer to as the “only natural law”. From a certain perspective, they’re right. You own nothing, and have no rights, save for those which you can personally defend. We like to believe we have rights and justice, but that’s only true so long as we’re fortunate enough to never experience prejudice from the institutions which are meant to protect us.
We have this entire construct we’ve built up around ourselves to protect us from the notion that only the most powerful should be allowed to do as they please, and the rest of us should bend to their wills– it starts with the basics of ethics and laws, and pervades all the way into advanced concepts of “etiquette”. These things are useful to us, and help us keep society functioning and relatively cohesive. Without them, we’d live in chaotic anarchy– but then, there isn’t a fundamentally-relevant difference between the traditional notion of “might makes right”, and the new version of “economic might makes right” which has adapted to work within the loop-holes of legality in our modern world. Such behaviours have been dubbed “oligarchy”, “plutarchy”, and “plutocracy”– but whatever you call it, it means that the golden rule, “He who has the money makes the rules,” stands true. It’s the law of the corporate jungle.
In theory, the act of voting gives us– the people– the power to decide our laws based on what we believe is right– that is to say, our ethics, or morality. (If you’re interested in how exactly I define these terms of “right”, “morality”, and “justice”, check out my twin post to this one, “Do You Call That Justice?” .) Of course, this requires voters who care about such things enough to motivate themselves to actually vote– and not just vote, but talk to each other about what they’re voting for and why. It also requires enough care to inform themselves and each other about the things for which they’re voting. These are a lot of conditions which have been met in more recent years with abject failure among the voting populace. People have been voting too much based on their “feelings” which are constantly manipulated by politicians who are clever, charming, and/or insidious, and possessed of armies of crowd-influencers (i.e. propaganda specialists). The education which such people experience throughout their entire lives prepares them precisely to manipulate the masses of a country and/or corporation, making them exceedingly effective at it by the time they get to the major-leagues like congress and the presidency.
To see these concepts in practise, we have no further to look than the “War on Drugs”, a politically-motivated decision to make a public show of fighting the “dangers” of marijuana (especially) and other drugs, during the Nixon administration in the 1970’s. This “war” continues today, and from its inception was actually meant to target specifically black people, Hispanic/Latino people, and anyone with left-wing-political-leaning ideals– i.e. the “hippies” of the ’70s.
From History.com we learn,
“Despite its medical usefulness, many Americans’ attitudes towards cannabis shifted at the turn of the century. This was at least partly motivated by Mexican immigration to the U.S. around the time of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, according to Eric Schlosser, author of Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market.
“The prejudices and fears that greeted these peasant immigrants also extended to their traditional means of intoxication: smoking marijuana,” Schlosser wrote for The Atlantic in 1994. “Police officers in Texas claimed that marijuana incited violent crimes, aroused a ‘lust for blood,’ and gave its users ‘superhuman strength.’ Rumors spread that Mexicans were distributing this ‘killer weed’ to unsuspecting American schoolchildren.” ”
In 1994, John Ehrlichman, a Watergate Scandal co-conspirator gave an interview to writer Dan Baum of Harper’s magazine, detailing exactly why Nixon pushed so fervently for the so-called “War on Drugs”. Ehrlichman was Nixon’s domestic-policy advisor, and in his interview with Baum stated,
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Baum himself later added,
“Nixon’s invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the growing cost of the drug war is now impossible to ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment that doesn’t end at the prison gate; one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.”
While the Nixon administration targeted black people specifically through heroine, the fact remains that marijuana charges have been just as useful– if not moreso– in the decades since 1970 to prosecute both black people and liberals. Two facts we know are true: non-violent marijuana-related charges make up a significant percentage of people who are in jail/on parole/on probation in the U.S. penal system at any given time; and black and Hispanic people are massively over-represented (by percentage population) within our over-crowded prisons.
The United States– “home of the free”– is ironically and literally home to the largest prison population on the planet. As of this writing– save for adding the populations of the number-two and number-three (China and Russia, respectively) place-holders– the U.S. prison population is larger than any other two countries on Earth, combined. If you consider the prison populations in respect to the populations of the country, you can include those two runners-up, and the percentage will be greater than any two countries combined.
According to the last U.S. prison Census period (2013), the BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics) released the following information regarding the country’s prison population:
“2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons, and county jails in 2013 – about 0.91% of adults (1 in 110) in the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,751,400 adults in 2013 (1 in 51) were on probation or on parole.
On December 31, 2016, an estimated 6,613,500 persons were supervised by U.S. adult correctional systems, about 62,700 fewer persons than on January 1, 2016.”
— From the BJS official website: https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=6226
Regarding the actual number of people in prison for marijuana-related crimes, it’s difficult to pin down. Most publicly-available statistics on the matter seem to be attempting to skew the numbers with careful wording, either (on the Conservative side) talking about the number of people serving time for marijuana-posession only (which turns out to less than 1%); or on the Liberal side, estimations of over 2 million in the correctional process, which comes up to roughly one-third of everyone in prison, jail, or on parole or probation.
Regardless, the racial slant is entirely apparent. The Drug Policy Alliance tells us,
“The first anti-marijuana laws during the 1910s and 20s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. Artists and performers – especially black jazz musicians – were also common targets.
Today, Latino and black communities are still subject to wildly disproportionate marijuana enforcement practices, despite the fact that these groups are no more likely than white people to use or sell marijuana.
These arrests can create permanent criminal records that can easily be found on the internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies and banks. And it can result in loss of employment, financial aid, housing and child custody. In many U.S. states, a marijuana possession arrest can still lead to months or even years behind bars…”
A 2016 New York Times report stated,
“With marijuana use on the rise, law enforcement agencies made 574,641 arrests last year for small quantities of the drug intended for personal use, according to the report, which was released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. The marijuana arrests were about 13.6 percent more than the 505,681 arrests made for all violent crimes, including murder, rape and serious assaults.”
Additionally, Human Rights Watch posits,
“Every 25 seconds in the United States, someone is arrested for the simple act of possessing drugs for their personal use, just as Neal and Nicole were. Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime. More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year. And despite officials’ claims that drug laws are meant to curb drug sales, four times as many people are arrested for possessing drugs as are arrested for selling them.
As a result of these arrests, on any given day at least 137,000 men and women are behind bars in the United States for drug possession, some 48,000 of them in state prisons and 89,000 in jails, most of the latter in pretrial detention. Each day, tens of thousands more are convicted, cycle through jails and prisons, and spend extended periods on probation and parole, often burdened with crippling debt from court-imposed fines and fees. Their criminal records lock them out of jobs, housing, education, welfare assistance, voting, and much more, and subject them to discrimination and stigma. The cost to them and to their families and communities, as well as to the taxpayer, is devastating. Those impacted are disproportionately communities of color and the poor.”
“Over the course of their lives, white people are more likely than Black people to use illicit drugs in general, as well as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and prescription drugs (for non-medical purposes) specifically. Data on more recent drug use (for example, in the past year) shows that Black and white adults use illicit drugs other than marijuana at the same rates and that they use marijuana at similar rates.
Yet around the country, Black adults are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white adults to be arrested for drug possession. In 2014, Black adults accounted for just 14 percent of those who used drugs in the previous year but close to a third of those arrested for drug possession. In the 39 states for which we have sufficient police data, Black adults were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white adults.
In every state for which we have sufficient data, Black adults were arrested for drug possession at higher rates than white adults, and in many states the disparities were substantially higher than the national rate—over 6 to 1 in Montana, Iowa, and Vermont. In Manhattan, Black people are nearly 11 times more likely than white people to be arrested for drug possession.”
Now in 2018, many states are slowly turning over the marijuana laws to more accurately reflect the herb’s place in our society; and major corporations owned primarily by already-wealthy, old, white men– the very same sorts of people profitting from the incarceration of black, Latino, and liberal people– are starting to cash in on these over-turning laws. In light of these facts, and that their incarceration was unjust to begin with, it seems only logical and reasonable that all people in prison for crimes related to marijuana-only, should be freed, and their records cleared.
I can already hear many of you screaming, “But they broke the law! What about all the other people serving or who already served time for crimes which were over-turned in law the law? If we set these pot-heads free, we’ll have to set the others free or compensate them, as well! Besides, why should we set anyone free who broke a law, just because it was later overturned?” As well as many variations on that. You might liken this to prohibition, and point out that we didn’t release those prisoners after realising prohibition didn’t work– to which, two thoughts come immediately to mind. First, prohibition wasn’t established by bigots specifically to target minorities or political obstacles, it was created in earnest to attempt to decrease crime and accidents, and informed largely by the religious beliefs of the majority at the time. It eventually failed, but its constituents (at least seemingly) genuinely believed in it at the time– unlike the pursuants of this “War on Drugs”. Secondly– and perhaps more importantly– do we really want to use the injustices of the past as precedence for perpetuating injustice of today into the future? Or would we rather learn from our mistakes, and advance this society?
The bottom line is, we’re not just talking about over-turned laws here. We’re talking about laws which were unjust from their inception. We don’t have to set everyone free who’s serving time for over-turned laws. In general, when a person breaks the law only for it to later be over-turned, the fact remains that they did still break the law at the time, and therefore should serve their time. This case is different because we’re talking about laws which were racially and politically-motivated, and were never justifiable to begin with.
Consider when proof is discovered that someone who has already been convicted of a crime, is actually innocent: not only are they released from prison, but they’re usually compensated economically for their time spent incarcerated. We do this to correct an injustice— not just to say “oops, sorry we were wrong”. People serving time for offending against an injust law, is injustice, and needs to be corrected. Either we believe in justice or we don’t– we can’t only believe in it sometimes. If we don’t, then there’s no point in civilisation or society at all, because without justice the only law that matters, is the “law of the jungle”, or the “law of the corporate jungle”. (If you question my ideals of “Justice” or morality, I again invite you to read my related article, “Do You Call That Justice?“.)
On top of righting a wrong of history, freeing the unjustly-imprisoned will additionally serve to improve the economy as income-earners are re-introduced to society, families are reunited and able to focus on creating better lives for themselves, it will drastically lower the prison populations and therefore the amount of taxpayers’ dollars spent on taking care of these prisoners; and the only drawback will be to the industrial prison privateers, who will have fewer slaves upon which to profit (that alone, will also deal a blow to the prison-industrial complex seeking to feed on the misfortune of our entire society– securing us further into the oligarchy I described earlier). In short, it’s a win on every front that matters.
Fight for equality. Fight for justice. Talk to others, and vote locally and federally according to what’s good, and true, and right. Like Edmund Burke said,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”