Decriminalization of Marijuana

Police are the frontline enforcers of a criminal justice system that incentivizes imprisonment. While much attention has been paid to cops practices, there has been less concentrate on the foundation of authorities authority– the laws which offer cops and courts broad discretion to detain and put behind bars individuals for offenses that have absolutely nothing to do with public security.

If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged,
an estimated 1 out of every 20 persons (5.1%) will serve time in a prison during their lifetime.
-U.S. Dept of Justice

From 1980 to 2008, the variety of Americans incarcerated increased from 500,000 to 2.3 million. Almost half of the individuals put behind bars in state facilities are there for nonviolent offenses. Black and Latina/o people make up nearly 60% of all incarcerated individuals, even though they make up one-quarter of the U.S. population. This boost in incarceration is, in part, due to thousands of brand-new laws at the federal, state and regional level that permit police to apprehend people for anything from breaches of minor school policies to offenses of park guidelines. Michigan, for instance, has at least 3,102 crimes on the record and has produced an average of 45 brand-new criminal activities every year. California has developed 1,000 brand-new criminal activities in the last 25 years. Cities across the nation have likewise enacted countless new local level infractions. In New York city City alone, there are almost 10,000 laws, offenses, guidelines, and codes that cops can enforce.

As an outcome of the assault of brand-new “crimes,” police concerns have moved from the investigation of violent criminal activities to an emphasis on administrative and regulative offenses, including things like public intake of alcohol, spitting or perhaps using drooping trousers. It is estimated that the typical officer spends 90% of their time dealing with small infractions that break regional administrative codes and just 10% of their time handling violent criminal activities.

These new laws broadened officer discretion and increased their targeting of lower-income Black and Latino communities. Over 80% of those ticketed in New York city City for low-level offenses are Black or Latina/o individuals. Similar inconsistencies exist in the enforcement of drug laws in spite of the truth that Black and Latino communities usage of drugs are at similar rates as white neighborhoods. Moreover, nearly 50% of drug arrests are for marijuana-related offenses. One in every 15 Black males and one in every 36 Latino men are incarcerated in comparison to one in every 106 white guys.

Police and jails have ended up being the federal government’s answer to nearly every social problem in low-income communities of color. The criminalization of poverty, mental disorder, viewed anti-social habits, and drug addiction has led to mass imprisonment. Increased criminalization also aggravates neighborhood members’ interactions with police and leaves them vulnerable to the whims of police, who are often incentivized by quotas and political pressure to arrest and jail as lots of people as possible. Key to changing police and neighborhood relations is the decriminalization of habits that do not position a danger to public security and investment in alternative options to social and health problems.

In Practice

A variety of jurisdictions throughout the country have decriminalized cannabis– most just recently Colorado, Washington, and Washington D.C. In Washington, D.C. neighborhood companies gathered sufficient signatures to put the concern on the November 2014 ballot and in February 2015, marijuana for recreational usage was voted to be decriminalized. The campaign now focuses on ending discrimination through full legalization and refocusing cops concerns on more crucial matters.

In NYC, the prioritization of low-level offenses resulted in more people being jailed for cannabis belongings in 2011 than the total number arrested for the crime in between 1981 and 1995. Eighty-four percent were Black or Latina/o, even though a lot of marijuana users in New York city are white.

Grassroots advocacy and public pressure have altered the political environment around cannabis within N.Y. State. Organizations like VOCAL NY and the Drug Policy Alliance have been positioned as an advocacy, public education, and grassroots arranging project. In 2013, a coalition of grassroots groups hosted an online forum for the Brooklyn District Attorney prospects to talk about the connections between the unsuccessful war on drugs and mass incarceration and encouraged prospects to consider various methods to dealing with drug dependency. A comparable mayoral forum was hosted, and organizers were able to successfully alter the public narrative a lot so that both Republican and Democratic prospects openly supported legalizing percentages of marijuana. Most just recently, Brooklyn’s District Lawyer said that his workplace would not prosecute low-level cannabis possessions.

Men (9.0%) are over 8 times more likely than women (1.1%) to be incarcerated in prison at least once during their life. -U.S. Dept of Justice

Nevertheless, without legislation, there is no way to impose non-prosecution or department de-prioritization. To ensure the permanence and effectiveness of any reforms, legislation should ultimately be passed. Advocacy groups throughout the state are now pushing New York to introduce an expense that would make ownership of small amounts of cannabis a violation as opposed to a misdemeanor.

Just recently, in recognition of the monetary and human expenses of the criminalization of low-level offenses, a variety of city council members in New York City are working to alter a few of the City’s most common offenses from criminal to civil charges.

Similarly, in November 2014 citizens in California passed Proposition 47, which lowers specific drug belongings and home criminal offense felonies to misdemeanors and reinvests the estimated $150 million a year in cost savings to support school truancy and dropout avoidance, victim services, psychological health and drug abuse treatment, and other programs created to expand options to incarceration. The Proposal passed as an outcome of the efforts a coalition of supporters, base structure companies and policymakers from across the state.

Best Practices

Actions can be taken at the state, City or county level to legalize formerly criminal habits and reduce mass imprisonment and violent police conduct.

When possible, municipalities should modify their municipal codes to reclassify existing misdemeanors into civil violations. Towns should also make sure that fines associated with civil offenses do not become excuses to put behind bars or financially make use of individuals. Some of the more common offenses criminalized that occured in the 80s and 90s include: Consumption of Alcohol on Streets, Disorderly Conduct, Public Urination, Bicycle on Walkway, Trespassing (which can consist of being in a building without identification), Failure to abide by park signs, Unlawfully in parks after hours, Marijuana possession, Littering, Loitering, Panhandling, Transit Offenses (consisting of sleeping on train, taking up several seats, traveling between subway automobiles, dancing on train), Loud Music, Truancy and Spitting.

Towns need to change their city charters or regional municipal laws to restrict the administrative, health, park and tax code offenses that authorities are responsible for imposing.

States– and where possible, cities– must decrease collateral consequences arising from all minor offenses, so that people’ employment, migration, parenting, voting, and public real estate statuses are not jeopardized.

States must decriminalize cannabis and include provisions that enable belongings of marijuana for persons of any ages, allow those who have currently been founded guilty for belongings of marijuana to clear their records, repair meanings of what constitutes sale of cannabis so that sharing is not lawfully seen as selling, and consist of racial impact analysis and information collection mandates to ensure that enforcement of any existing laws is not racially bias.

Cities should also take steps to reduce the damages of cannabis and other low-level offenses by encouraging police to deprioritize enforcement of these criminal activities and encouraging regional D.A.s to cease in pursuing low-level offenses.

Cities and states can reinvest a percentage of any savings arising from criminal justice reform focused on community‐based efforts, prevention, intervention, treatment, education, and other programs that have been revealed to promote much healthier, stronger and more secure neighborhoods.

Sample legislation and Policy

For the text of the proposed New York city State Fairness and Equity Act, see:

The Fairness and Equity Act, introduced in 2013, proposes to end the racially biased arrests of tens of countless New York city’s by fixing the law relating to possession of percentages of marijuana, create a procedure for those who have been convicted of public possession of small amounts of cannabis to clear their records, lowers collateral effects resulting from marijuana belongings arrests and non-criminal offenses, seals marijuana possession infractions immediately upon conviction and develops a process to make use of racial and ethnic effect declarations for legislation proposing to customize New York city’s penal code.

For the text of California’s Proposition 47, see:

Proposition 47 was a ballot step that passed in 2014 in California. It reclassified six low-level home and drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, theft, and check fraud under $950, along with individual use of most controlled substances. State cost savings arising from the step are estimated to be at least $150 million a year and will be utilized to support school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health, and drug abuse treatment, and other programs developed to expand options to imprisonment.


For more reading on marijuana decriminalization campaigns across the nation see the Drug Policy Alliance’s Site:

To learn more about the out of proportion effect of marijuana enforcement, see ACLU’s “The War on Cannabis in Black and White”:

For more information about over-criminalization:

For additional information about the California project to change sentencing practices and purchase neighborhoods:

For more details about VOCAL NY’s project to decriminalize cannabis and other low-level offenses in New York City:

Two Texas Inmate Deaths from Negligence This Year

Over the past seven months there have been two separate instances of Texas inmates dying in private prisons due to negligence. The first instance was of Thomas Detric Adderson, 32, who died in the Willacy County jail in Raymondville, TX on June 10. This facility is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The inmate, Adderson, had been diagnosed with asthma as a child, and was allowed the use of his home nebulizer (or “breathing machine”) a few hours before his death. However, a few hours later, he went into an asthma attack. Adderson was then sent to the infirmary and administered another usage of his nebulizer as before. He asked for his handheld inhaler, but was denied it. He died a few hours later.

Willacy County attorney known for fighting against private prison abuses, Juan Angel Guerra, is the defending lawyer on the case. He stated, “I’ve talked to doctors and they’ve said that nowadays it is very rare for people to die of an asthma attack…I haven’t started investigations inside the jail but everything indicates that he died of an asthma attack” (TM). After his death, Adderson’s mother was given eight empty asthma inhalers, along with other possessions. Guerra states that Adderson’s decision to keep the empty inhalers could indicate that he was not receiving his proper daily medication, because “if you’re really having an attack you grab all the pumps you see if it has a little bit of medication” (TM). If Adderson had been properly medicated, there would be no need to save nearly empty inhalers in case of an attack–he most likely felt as though if he had an attack he wouldn’t get the proper medicine, thus, he kept his empty inhalers out of desperation.

The second case of negligence was commited by Louisisana-based LCS Corrections earlier this month in the Brooks County jail earlier in January of this year. Mario Alberto Garcia was held in the facility on charges of bid-rigging. Normally white-collar criminals are left out of jail until sentenced, but Garcia’s judge decided that his mental condition might result in his suicide. Juan Reyna, an attorney representing Garcia’s family, said Garcia had a medical condition. Reyna, who declined to identify the condition, said Garcia’s family knew of it and warned jail officials about it. “The family had some major concerns with respect to medical treatment Mr. Garcia was receiving,” Reyna said. “The family made it very clear regarding medical treatment” (TPB). Despite the documentation, Garcia contracted a seizure while in prison and was not given any medicine to quell the episode, resulting in his death. Last Thursday, Garcia’s family announced their pending lawsuit against LCS Corrections for unspecified damages in the negligence and failure to render medication to the inmate (CT).

Earlier this month, PPW covered developments in The GEO Group’s psychiatric ward to open in Houston. While neither of these cases have links to The GEO Group, it does leave room for concern that private prison companies are not administering proper care to their inmates. If seemingly simple requests for inhaler use or seizure medication are not granted, one can only imagine what the effects might be if a private prison company were to run an entire ward of nothing but prisoners with poor mental health.