Cannabis Illegality and Policing a Plant

If the idea of trying to police the growth of a plant wasn’t strange enough, try on for size the multiple for-profit corporations whose business models center around the incarceration of human beings. Next, pile on the racist defamation campaigns started by those in political power in the early part of the 20th century. Then, top that off with over 80 years of lies, falsified testing, redactions, obstructions of scientific findings, flat out decimation of scientific evidence, and the start of a “drug” war— and you find yourself staring at the almost unbelievable plight of Cannabis in the United States.

The numbers don’t add up

Many of us have heard the figures which highlight the disproportionate nature of black and Hispanic Americans being arrested for Cannabis compared to white Americans. At reportedly similar usage rates between black and white Americans, black Americans have been 4x more likely to be arrested for Cannabis. Statistically speaking, this is what you might call significant.

And the number of arrests across the board are staggering as well. Around 52% of all drug related arrests in 2010 were for Cannabis according to the ACLU. In 2016, simple possession arrests accounted for 5% of the total arrests across the country. This means that in 2016 there were over 587,000 people arrested for possession of a plant.

Looking further back from 1974, coincidentally around the start of the drug war, incarcerated populations— whether in federal prisons, state prisons, or local jails— have increased nearly 500 percent. In the same amount of time, the entire U.S. population has increased only 51 percent. While difficult to specify a causal relationship, the correlation between the start of the war on drugs and our current incarceration rate is tough to ignore.

Then, there’s the private prison system

Since 2000, the number of people held in private prisons has increased 45% while the prison population for state or federally run prisons has only increased 10 percent. And now, private prison systems house nearly half of the country’s immigrant detainee population compared to only 25% ten years ago. So that must mean more private prisons are needed or that they do a better job than government run prisons, right?

Except that from 2013 through 2017 there was an overall decrease in the prison population and our Attorney General reversed a 2016 policy aimed at reducing the need for these contracts. He also made this reversal despite a scornful report from the Justice Department’s office of the Inspector General that showed federally contracted prisons (aka, private) had more problems with safety and security than government run facilities. Then earlier this year, this same man went back on a 2013 policy having to do with sentencing guidelines for drug related offenses. He urged federal prosecutors nationwide to return to the harshest possible sentencing for drug related crimes; effectively trying to backslide to an era of penalties which directly ballooned the prison population, kept human beings in cages for longer periods of time, and sent many state run prisons into an overpopulated, undermanned system of financial and logistical chaos.

It would seem that what started as a war on Mexican immigrants in the 1930’s was reshaped into a war on Mexicans, black people, and the counterculture movement later in the 1970’s. Now, at least from where I’m standing, it would appear we have reshaped this pathetically labeled “war” into a grotesque, yet lawful, pattern of enslavement. We have set up a system which incentivizes the incarceration of people, and we continue to keep this system propped up. By at least working to understand our system and by involving yourself in some small way, even just writing your representatives and letting them know you are an active citizen, we can all work to make the necessary reparations to this system. Or at least we can ensure the continued use of what is a broken system comes crashing down completely.


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