Friday, June 8, 2012

The Myth of Prisons Full of Pot Smokers

There was a time, decades ago, when people were sentenced to long prison sentences for marijuana possession.  I remember reading, in the 1970s, about a guy in Texas who ended up with a life sentence, because his possession of marijuana conviction was his third strike.  But that was a long time ago.

Truth and Common Sense blogs about a recent event where a pretty major marijuana grower and dealer was caught by local police, and prosecuted:
Libertarians and closet dope smokers in three piece attire want to legalize dope because “too many simple dope dealers and smokers go to jail, clogging up the system.” Blah, blah, blah.
There is no war on drugs. If there were, I and my former brothers in blue would be able to shoot drug traffickers and dealers on sight, like seeing an Iraqi pick up an AK47 gives the snipers a green light.
But we don’t. Oh, we chase them, investigate them, put good cases together and arrest and prosecute them and convict them of multiple felonies.
And then they get probation.
He quotes from a news account of a guy recently arrested after his underground pot growing bunker came to the attention of authorities, and the accused's past history:
In 2002, deputies raided the same house and arrested Jaime, a Cuba native, for running a grow house. Investigators found marijuana plants growing in two rooms of the house, with elaborate irrigation and lighting systems. Jaime told deputies he set up the operation, using his skills as an electrician and a textbook for guidance.
During that raid, deputies seized 177 pot plants and marijuana growing materials. Seven and a half months later, Jaime pleaded no-contest to three felony charges related to the arrest, receiving two years probation.
There are people who go to prison for dealing marijuana, and there are almost certainly people who plea bargain "possession for sale" or dealing charges down to possession, and go to jail or prison for that.  But simple possession of marijuana just isn't one of those prison sentence crimes these days.  There aren't enough cells; those have to be reserved for the meth heads.


  1. Oh, we chase them, investigate them, put good cases together and arrest and prosecute them and convict them of multiple felonies.

    Isn't that part of the "war on drugs"?

    The cost of housing them in the penal system is only part of the cost of doing businss in that war. Arguments can be made about whether all that chasing and investigating and preparing cases should be done for cannabis offenders... but those are resources that could otherwise be used against some other form of crime.

  2. I think his point is that "War on Drugs" is really an exaggeration. A war would involve something far more aggressive and far less criminal justice based. You can make a case that the militarization of police as part of the "War of Drugs" is a very bad thing, but they really aren't militarized. We don't call in air strikes on suspected drug dealers (at least in the U.S.)

    I do agree that the cost of housing potheads doesn't make much sense. But then again, we don't actually do much of that. Drug dealers get prosecuted and sent away...although not in this case. But how many pot smokers are sent to prison? It's pretty rare these days.

    Even here in Idaho, if someone gets arrested for marijuana possession, it's usually incidental to some other arrest: DUI; a violent crime; or some other sign of general stupidity. (Pot dealers are another matter.)

  3. I have a funny view about prisons: prisons are incompatible with a free society. Thus, I don't care how the prisons are filled, they shouldn't be filled at all!

    Of course, my alternative would be to fine criminals, and make sure that every cent of the fine goes to the victim of the crime, or (in the case of things like parking violations) to something related to the crime. For example, DUI, and probably parking, fines would go to the victims of accidents caused by DUI drivers.

    And I would be open to the possibility that those who don't pay their fines be flogged, possibly on a regular basis.

    And finally, those who do something really serious, like rape or murder, wouldn't be executed by the State, but be declared "outlaw" instead, in the Icelandic sense that someone could kill the perpetrator without it being considered murder; alternatively, a fine can be levied even in these cases, and an "avenger of blood" can be assigned, who has the right to kill the perpetrator if he isn't keeping up with his payments.

    Yeah, I know: learning about so-called anarcho-capitalistic societies has destroyed most of my sense for good government. :-) In fact, I understand that what I'd consider "ideal punishment" is so out-of-whack with the general population, I'd even have a difficult time of convincing potheads that it's a good idea!

  4. Seriously? This is an anecdote, not data.

  5. As I mentioned, I see a lot of data on who is sitting in Idaho prisons, and why. If people are going to prison for possession of marijuana in Idaho, it is not at all often. Perhaps in places like California, they are more willing to do so. (Yeah, right.)

  6. Because if it were a war they would have tanks?

    And lest we think that a recent, Post-911 phenomenon:

    It's almost enough to make NWA seem sympathetic.